New privacy head hits books

The next Privacy Commissioner won't nail her philosophical colours to the mast for at least a couple of months, but in general she believes in a balance between the right to privacy and the efficient operation of government and industry.

The next Privacy Commissioner won’t nail her philosophical colours to the mast for at least a couple of months, but in general she believes in a balance between the right to privacy and the efficient operation of government and industry.

Marie Shroff says she took the post — which has attracted controversy along with its enacting legislation, the Privacy Act 1993 — because she had become interested in rights issues.

“I wanted to move to a statutory appointment after 15 years in this job [as a Cabinet secretary]. During that time I’ve come into contact with protection and rights issues and I’ve become interested in that area. Privacy is a key value in our society.”

Shroff does not take over the position from Bruce Slane until September, and will be doing a lot of study between now and then.

“I simply don’t have the expertise yet to offer a view [of the role and its legislation],” but as a general comment, she says “a balance needs to be struck between the right to privacy and the efficient operation of government and industry”.

Earlier this month, one of the people consulted in the original drafting of the Privacy Act said its fundamental principle of information ownership should be revised. The owner of personal information under the current law is not the person to whom it relates, says Mike Rumble. The owner is the organisation that collected the information. Now a director of the 2020 Communications Trust, Rumble was asked to give comment when the act was being drafted, in his former role with the NZ Defence Force.

“That fundamental principle, I did not accept,” he said, during a discussion on information ownership rights at the “hui” convened earlier this month to discuss a civil society submission to the World Summit on the Information Society. “It’s your information; you should own it,” he says.

Under the Privacy Act, the subject of the information has restricted rights to examine and correct it.

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