New Zealand Law Society - Abuse led to refusal to provide information

Abuse led to refusal to provide information

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A plane passenger was so abusive and troublesome in his pursuit of information relating to him that his request was turned down.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner says the man continually tried to contact the airline’s chief executive, and abused and made threats to airline staff. He was also confrontational with members of the Office’s own staff.

It says the man initially contacted the unnamed airline requesting all the information they had about him relating to a ticket dispute.

He emailed the airline’s CEO several times saying he hadn’t received the requested information and asked for recordings of two calls he had made, claiming call centre staff were rude to him.

He continued to call the airline for several months. The airline refused most of his requests, so the man complained to the Office.

The airline said it tried to engage with the angry customer several times but their requests for clarification on what information he wanted were ignored.

It said the man was abusive and difficult to engage with.

The airline decided to refuse the man’s requests, citing section 29(1)(j) of the Privacy Act.

Vexatious requests

The Office says the man’s complaint raised issues under principle 6 of the Privacy Act 1993 which says individuals have a right to access personal information an agency holds about them.

Section 29(1)(j) lets an agency withhold personal information if the request is frivolous or vexatious, and/or the information they’re requesting is trivial.

The airline described many of the man’s calls as abusive and threatening. The Office’s investigator listened to some of the calls. In them the man was yelling, speaking over staff, refusing to listen to attempts to resolve issues and name calling.

As the dispute continued, the man made more requests.  The office says while the Privacy Act doesn’t limit the number of requests someone can make, the investigator viewed his unwillingness to clarify or resolve his older requests as vexatious behaviour.

In one call he said he wanted to edit a call and spread it through media and social media to make the airline “look as bad as possible” and hurt them.

The Office’s decision that the airline could refuse the man’s requests did not go down well.

“The man disputed this but presented no evidence that would alter our view. We informed him of his right to bring the case before the Human Rights Review Tribunal,” the Office says.

“The man made further calls to our office, during which he was rude and confrontational. We decided to block his phone number and close the file.”

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