Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
Office of the New Zealand Privacy Commissioner
Details of the Australian public’s attitudes to privacy, as shown from a survey commissioned by Australia’s Federal Privacy Commissioner, were published in (2001) 8(4) PLPR 59. The New Zealand Privacy Commissioner has now published a survey of public attitudes in that country, the summary of which is reproduced below. Results in this report are based upon questions asked in the UMR Research nationwide omnibus survey. UMR Research, in its introduction to the Report, notes:
This is a telephone survey of a nationally representative sample of 750 New Zealanders 18 years of age and over. Fieldwork was conducted from 13 to 16 September 2001 at UMR Research’s national interview facility in Auckland. Comparative results are provided from previous surveys but it should be noted that some differences in methodology and question wording means considerable care is needed in analysing those results. The margin of error for a 50 per cent figure at the ‘95 per cent confidence level’ is 13.6 per cent.
The paragraph structure of the summary has been edited slightly — General Editor.
Individual privacy rated seventh on the level of public concern out of nine major issues tested. Using a five point scale where one meant that respondents were very concerned and five not concerned at all, 47 per cent declared they were concerned about individual privacy (combined points one and two on the scale), 27 per cent were neutral (point three) and 25 per cent not concerned (combined points four and five). Twenty five per cent declared they were very concerned (point one) and 10 per cent not concerned at all (point five).
The level of concern on individual privacy was well below the 80 per cent level of concern declared for both health and crime and violence. It was, however, similar to the levels of concern declared for the environment (53 per cent) and the power of Government (44 per cent).
The level of high concern (point one on scale) was above average in rural areas (32 per cent), among the blue collar occupational group (34 per cent), among people in the two lower income brackets and among Maori people (38 per cent). Some care is needed given the smaller subsamples that apply. It should also be noted that the level of concern amongst Maori people was above average for all issues tested.
Compared to the 1994 Brian Steel survey, it appears that the level of concern about individual privacy has fallen. That survey used a broadly similar five point scale, which recorded 68 per cent concern on the issue. Too much cannot, however, be read into this as on all issues the level of declared concern was higher in the Brian Steel than the UMR survey. Only on health — where concern was 6 per cent higher — was the gap less than 12 points. The Brian Steel survey also recorded far higher concern on unemployment and the environment. It seems unlikely that there has been a plunge in concern on those two issues in the last seven years. The relative rankings were similar with ‘power of Government’ ranked just beneath individual privacy in both surveys.
There has been little change in the perceived level of need for the Privacy Commission in the last four years. In the UMR June 1997 survey, 68 per cent of New Zealanders surveyed considered that New Zealand needed the Privacy Commission, 21 per cent that it was not needed with 11 per cent unsure. In the September 2001 survey, 70 per cent of New Zealanders consider they need the Privacy Commission, 23 per cent that they do not need the Commission with 7 per cent unsure.
This is an encouraging result as there was some concern in the focus groups that the immediate response in discussion of the Privacy Commission was, in a number of cases, complaints about what was seen as an overly bureaucratic application of the Privacy Act 1983. The need for the Commission did come through strongly in the focus groups once the wide range of privacy issues was raised.
Support for the Privacy Commission was fairly even across demographic categories. The difference that stood out was lower support among older New Zealanders. Among 60+ year old respondents, 55 per cent thought that New Zealand needed the Commission and 37 per cent that it did not with 8 per cent unsure.
There was also little change in the rating of the performance of the Privacy Commissioner. In the June 1997 survey, 42 per cent in total thought the Commission was doing an excellent or a good job, 32 per cent not that good or a poor job with 26 per cent unsure. In the September 2001 survey, 45 per cent in total thought the Commissioner was doing an excellent or a good job, 32 per cent not that good or a poor job, with 23 per cent unsure.
There were very high and reasonably even levels of declared concern about potential breaches of individual privacy by businesses. Using a five point scale, 91 per cent of New Zealanders surveyed declared they would be concerned (including 79 per cent very concerned) if a business they supplied their information to for a specific purpose uses it for another purpose. Eighty nine per cent were concerned (including 78 per cent very concerned) if a business that they didn’t know got hold of their personal information. Eighty seven per cent were concerned (including 70 per cent very concerned) if a business asked them for personal information that didn’t seem relevant to the purpose of the transaction. Eighty six per cent were concerned (including 76 per cent very concerned) if a business monitored their activities on the internet recording information on the sites they visited without their knowledge.
These levels of concern were very close to the level of agreement recorded in a Roy Morgan July 2001 survey in Australia on whether each of those issues represented an invasion of privacy. In testing of the importance of attributes in dealing with businesses, respect for and protection of personal information ranked almost as high as quality of product or service.
Using a five point scale, 93 per cent declared that respect for and protection of personal information was important (combined points one and two on the five point scale). This included 78 per cent who considered that it was very important (point one on the scale). The importance rating for quality of products and service was 95 per cent (including 79 per cent very important). Efficiency of service rated 94 per cent (including 68 per cent very important) and convenience 79 per cent (including 46 per cent very important).
Of 11 issues tested the security of personal details on the internet emerged as the privacy issue New Zealanders were most concerned about. Using a five point scale, 84 per cent were concerned (including 65 per cent very concerned) on this issue. This was followed by confidentiality of medical records (74 per cent concerned) and government interception of telephone calls or email (72 per cent concerned).
A majority of New Zealanders also declared concern about the privacy of personal details held for credit reporting, tracking people on the internet, employer monitoring of emails, the availability of personal details on public registers and a compulsory ID number for every New Zealander. A number were concerned on data sharing between government departments and random drug testing of employees.
The only issue tested which a majority were not concerned about was video surveillance in public places. Twenty eight per cent declared they were concerned on this issue (including 19 per cent who were very concerned) and 53 per cent that they were not concerned (including 35 per cent who were not concerned at all).