Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
This article on identification proposals in New Zealand is reproduced by permission of the New Zealand Privacy Commissioner’s ‘Private Word’ where it appeared originally under the title ‘Backdoor entry for ID cards?’ in March 1998 — General Editor.
The proposed replacement of lifetime driver’s licences with a 10-year renewable credit-card sized licence, bearing a digitised photograph, carries privacy risks which ‘have little to do with driver licensing but much to do with creating the conditions for a de facto national identification card,’ according to the Privacy Commissioner.
In a report to the Minister of Justice on the Land Transport Bill now before Parliament, Bruce Slane said the proposals to oblige drivers to carry the licence at all times while driving would mean, in effect, that most adults would have to carry the licence at all times.
‘This would provide ideal conditions for government agencies, police officers, retailers and other businesses to ask for the card as standard identification in a variety of dealings unrelated to road safety. Indeed, the provision in this bill to issue proof of identity cards to non-drivers confirms my view that there is a deliberate desire to create the conditions for a state-backed identity card without calling it this in so many words,’ the Commissioner stated.
‘It seemed to me that if New Zealand was to adopt a national ID card, it should be a conscious decision following an informed public debate, not an incidental consequence of road safety legislation.’
The Commissioner went on to say that while the Land Transport Safety Authority had now published a driving licensing privacy impact assessment, coinciding with a proposed ministerial rule on driver licensing, ‘the value of a privacy impact assessment is severely diminished when all the key decisions seem to have been taken or presented as foregone conclusions and most people will be unaware of its existence.’
The Commissioner raised six specific concerns, and proposed that the bill be amended accordingly. They were:
1. Individuals should not have to pay for heightened state surveillance
‘Law-abiding licensed drivers will be required to surrender a document which is perfectly adequate for their purposes in order to be issued with a document carrying fewer rights, heightened surveillance and a $60 cost.’ If the costs were to be met from the budgets of the transport safety and traffic enforcement authorities, ‘then I have greater confidence that the benefit will be adequately judged against competing priorities.’
2. Individuals should not be required to carry identification documents
‘Identity passes are valuable for state surveillance at check points, random street searches and hotel and other registration processes. However, the obligation to carry documentation may also bring with it intangible changes to the informal nature of NZ life and liberties. The relationship between state and citizen in that sphere of private life involving private internal travel is altered when the citizen is required to be carrying official documents. No doubt cynics will scoff at such sentiments but they might ponder them next time they drive between bach and beach, ride the farm motorbike from paddocks to milking shed, or undertake a 10-day hunting trip before returning to their vehicle at the end of the track.’
3. The police should not be given the power to detain individuals for identity checks
Under the bill enforcement officers could detain drivers for up to 15 minutes to verify their identity. ‘This surrender of freedom should be required to be shown to demonstrably bring road safety benefits ... If the claims of effectiveness of photo ID licenses as an identification tool are credible, then it seems unnecessary to also confer a new power of detention where that licence is produced.’ A 15-minute delay could be costly, say, for a person driving to the airport for a flight.
4. The bill should secure the digital photographs against use unconnected with road traffic enforcement
Unlike a conventional photograph, the digitised likeness would be held on a computer database. The statute should make it clear that images could be released to agencies other than traffic enforcement authorities only on production of a judicial warrant. ‘Otherwise we may find that a database of photographic images of practically all adult New Zealanders has become available as a standard investigative and surveillance tool.’
5. The bill should provide that the display of the date of birth on the card is voluntary
With a photograph, ‘the need to display the date of birth is called into question. A number of individuals are sensitive to disclosure of their age.’ But people who look younger than 18 might welcome having their name recorded voluntarily on an official document so that they can buy cigarettes and liquor.’ Those who want their date of birth displayed should have to request it.
6. The bill should not establish the Land Transport Safety Authority as a purveyor of ID cards
The bill proposes to confer on the LTSA a function of issuing a ‘proof of identity card’ for non-drivers who wish to purchase one. ‘Any case for a proof of identity card patently arises for reasons unconnected with road safety and it is, in my view, quite inappropriate to slip this through as a land transport measure. This and previous governments have focused public sector agencies that are appropriate to them. Indeed, land transport is a classic example, with LTSA created with a clear direction and function. For that reason alone I find it peculiar to see this function tacked on to the Authority. Surely the need for a state authority to enter the business of producing proof of identity cards is a matter for debate and study?’