Businesses and government agencies holding personal information don’t always accept that it’s basic right that people should be able to access information about themselves, says the privacy commissioner Bruce Slane.
“Too often I hear agencies asking why the person would want access to that material.
“That is not the issue. Parliament has given people the right to request access to their own information and has given limited number of grounds on which agencies may refuse. It is pervasive right,” says Slane.
“No longer is personal information simply gathered into files which gather dust. It usually forms part of an electronic database where it can be accessed, manipulated, used, developed or – if care is not taken – abused, exploited, extracted or deleted by people not entitled to do so.
“I see the role of the individual as first auditor of the databanks they voluntarily or involuntarily belong to. They can confirm its accuracy and relevance, and seek correction if it is wrong.”
Slane says people’s requests for their information were often treated in cavalier fashion, or simply neglected. He had referred cases to the proceedings commissioner, most of which had proceeded to the point of settlement or successful judgement.
The department of Work and Income was the subject of 62 complaints to the Privacy Commissioner in the 12 months to June 30, 2000 – more than any other organisation.
It was followed by the police (56), ACC (44), Department of Corrections (27), Department of Child, Youth and Family (22), IRD (20), Telecom (14) and Baycorp Holdings (11). Between them they attracted third of the year’s total complaints.
Many enquiries concern driving licences and the requirement for photographs and signatures stored digitally. Another concern is how direct marketers get address information.
The office also gets enquiries from people whose employers or prospective employers want them to authorise access to criminal conviction lists at the Department for Courts or police, and some want extensive medical information.
“Many enquirers felt that the collection of such information at the application stage [as opposed to shortlist or appointment stage] was unnecessarily intrusive,” says Slane.
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