Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
NZ Privacy Commissioner, Bruce Slane, has released a brief report on complaints made under the first 18 months' operation of the Privacy Act 1993. A total of 934 complaints were received over the 18-month period, with just over half (475) concerned with issues of access to information. The other main category of complaints was allegations of disclosure contrary to Information Privacy Principle 11 or Rule 11 of the Health Code (see (1995) 2 PLPR 8, this issue). The majority of complaints concerned the private sector, and the more recent record of complaints have confirmed this trend.
By the end of 1994, 414 cases had been completed and 375 were subject to further investigation. In almost half of these a settlement or resolution of the complaint was achieved informally. In 136 cases the Commissioner reached a provisional opinion, substantiating the complaint in 63 cases and finding no substance in 73 other complaints. A final opinion was brought down in 86 cases, only 23 of which were found to substantiate the complaint. Monetary settlements were made in some instances, generally under $1000 but ranging up to $5000. The Commissioner noted that only a very small number of complaints were rejected for being outside his jurisdiction, showing that 'people do understand when their privacy has been breached or when they have been refused access'.
Concluding the report, the Commissioner comments positively on the effectiveness of the complaints procedure in helping to develop a culture within organisations which respects personal privacy:
'I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who seek an opportunity to make the complaint not for any vindictive purpose but to ensure that the same events do not occur to someone else. In many cases settlements have been effected by sincere apologies being given by responsible agencies who persuade me that they have taken reasonable steps to avoid the matter occurring again ... the Act is not concerned about penalties and punishments but about changing attitudes, behaviour and systems, and many of the complainants see it that way as do many of the agencies'.