Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
compiled by Graham Greenleaf and Nigel Waters
In recent months the New Zealand Privacy Commissioner has made several reports to the NZ Minister of Justice concerning legislative proposals.
A November 1999 report touched upon the Parliamentary Service Bill which would consolidate the law governing the bodies responsible for the administration of Parliament (the Parliamentary Service Commission, a committee of senior MPs, and the Parliamentary Service, the agency which provides administrative and support services and pays funding entitlements). The Commissioner’s report related to the exemption from the information privacy principles enjoyed by the Parliamentary Service Commission, and partial exemption of the Parliamentary Service. The Commissioner was of the opinion that the exemptions could be narrowed significantly to ensure that the fair information practices embodied in the principles operated to the benefit of Parliamentarians, staff and the public. The only area of difficulty concerned access to information for which some continuing exemption was warranted to respect the constitutional and political roles of MPs. Although the proposed narrowing of the exemptions represents a modest technical reform, it also highlights a wider issue which is debated in many jurisdictions: is it a good thing for the legislature to exempt itself from laws of general application? There has also been some academic debate in the last couple of years in NZ as to whether the House of Representatives and its committees should be exempt from FOI laws.
Prior to NZ’s recent general election, a Victims’ Rights Bill was introduced to consolidate a 1987 Act and to enable victims to be heard at parole hearings. The Privacy Commissioner took the opportunity in a December report to raise a variety of issues including the disclosure of victims’ names and residential addresses, and the dissemination of victim impact statements. He also raised the matter of victims’ rights in relation to reporting by the mass media (an issue on which the Victims’ Rights Bill is entirely silent) and proposed that victims be entitled to have a support person present in criminal proceedings.
In February 2000 the Commissioner reported on proposals to amend the Sports Drug Agency Act 1994 (NZ). The process of drug testing, and the use of results to take action against individuals, impacts on competitors’ privacy, civil rights and, in some cases, livelihood. The Act therefore includes safeguards. One is the right to appeal to the District Court. A Bill before Parliament would restrict the right of appeal. It would remove the District Court’s power in some cases to give redress to an individual where the NZ Sports Drug Agency has been found to have breached the Act or Regulations but where the failure did not compromise the identity or integrity of the sample, the reliability of the test result, or the competitor’s rights to privacy and natural justice. In his report, the Commissioner questions the proposal. Most particularly, the Commissioner recommended the limit on the Court’s powers should not extend to breach of the statute by the agency (as against procedural provisions contained in Regulations).
All three bills remain before select committees. It is not yet apparent what approach the new Parliament, and new Government, will take to the issues.
Item provided by Blair Stewart.
PLPR apologises to Paula Goulding for omitting her as one of the co-authors in the title of the article ‘Secondary uses of personal information — ethical responsibilities of IT professionals’
6 PLPR 89.