Auckland City: We took legal advice on privacy

Auckland City Council says it underwent a rigorous "due process" and took legal advice on privacy implications before putting up property information on its website.

Auckland City Council says it underwent a rigorous “due process” and took legal advice on privacy implications before putting up property information on its website.

The council confirms that some members of the public have been surprised at the amount of information available. The site supplies property information such as capital, rateable and land values, land areas and annual rates. Some users of the service have been taken aback that entering a street name brings up every property in the street.

An Auckland barrister with an interest in privacy issues, Bob Stevens, questions whether it should be so easy for people to indulge their curiosity. While acknowledging that the council is likely to be within legal boundaries, he says there is a tension between public registers and rights of privacy. Laws covering public registers were made before widespread use of the internet and didn’t take into account the effect this would have, he says.

Auckland City Council IT manager Ian Rae says the decision to offer the service was based on research to determine demand for information over the internet, and that the section is now the most popular area of the website.

“An overriding philosophy for us in putting this information over the web was the public good in making it accessible to those people that were entitled to it and may have very valid use for it, versus the privileged few that knew it was available and contacted the call centre or visited the office to get it.”

Rae says the information on the site is in line with how a person would access it through traditional means — that is, by property address. “We have deliberately not introduced more sophisticated search mechanisms or report generation. If we did, I believe it would be then that we would be pushing the boundaries of being responsible guardians and publishers of information.”

According to the privacy policy displayed on the site, property and rates information is provided under sections 108 and 115 of the Rating Powers Act 1988 and under section 41 of the Rating Valuations Act 1998 as an online representation of a public register.

Councils are required to collect and maintain this information under both acts. They are also obliged to make this information freely available to members of the public and may not prevent others from accessing property, valuation, rating and ownership details about a ratepayer’s property. Ratepayer account information is not displayed on the web site.

The information is sourced in accordance with principle 2 of the Privacy Act.

North Shore City Council CIO Tony Rogers says North Shore and other councils in the region will be offering a similar service as part of their e-government strategy.

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