Individual access and transparency rights are increasingly vital in our digital age

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Privacy Foundation NZ

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Statement to mark international Right to Know Day

September 28 is international Right to Know Day, which recognises people’s rights to access both their own information and information about government. The Privacy Foundation is taking the opportunity to help to promote those rights, which are centrally important both for personal privacy and a flourishing democracy.

“Transparency and information access rights remain as important today as they were 43 years ago when our first privacy and access to information law – the Wanganui Computer Centre Act 1976 – was passed”, says Gehan Gunasekara, the Chair of the Privacy Foundation.

“Back in 1976 the concern was big joined-up law enforcement computer systems and the fear of inaccessible and potentially inaccurate information being used unfairly to take action against individuals. The legislated solution was to let individuals see what was held about themselves, so they could check that it was correct. It also gave people a right to get errors fixed. This openness and accountability enhanced public trust in government.

“This groundbreaking approach was later writ large with the rights set out in the Official Information Act 1982 and Privacy Act 1993.

“New challenges have arisen since the 1970s, particularly in relatively recent times. The ubiquity of computers, digital records (for example on social media) and growth in electronic sensors have created vast data trails, much of which is not held by government but by profit driven corporations. Some are household names and others are faceless or hidden. Many lie offshore.

“Both domestically and internationally, our access and transparency laws have not been strengthened in a way that keeps pace with these changes in how information is transmitted, used and stored. This means that new risks are emerging to privacy and to our democracies which we need to address urgently.

“There has been some recent progress in New Zealand. For example, amendments to the Credit Reporting Privacy Code gave individuals rights to get credit scores that companies generate about them and to get access to free credit reports much quicker than the law formerly allowed.

“We also look forward to the enactment of the new Privacy Act, hopefully in the coming months. The Act will introduce a more streamlined process for enforcing access rights, with the Privacy Commissioner able to issue binding determinations that information should be provided.

“The bill will also confer significant new transparency rights including rights to be told if:

  • there has been a significant privacy breach affecting your information.
  • information is to be transferred overseas and no protections comparable to NZ law are to be provided.

Gehan Gunasekara
Chair, Privacy Foundation NZ

 

Further Information

UNESCO has declared 28 September of every year to be the International Day for Universal Access to Information, see: https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/accesstoinformationday

The new rights in the Credit Reporting Privacy Code are summarised at: https://privacy.org.nz/assets/Uploads/2019-07-01-CRPC-changes-summary-document.pdf

The new Privacy Bill is available at: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2018/0034/latest/LMS23223.html?src=qs