New Zealand Law Society - Increase in demand for personal information usage

Increase in demand for personal information usage

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The Office of the Privacy Commissioner says there has been an increased demand from government and business to use personal information over the past year, and continued concern from the public to ensure this information is used appropriately and kept safe.

In its annual report, the Office says, earlier this year, the Data Futures Partnership published research from a series of workshops that investigated New Zealanders’ attitudes towards government use of data. The research found that people are more comfortable when they know why their data is being collected, who is going to use it and what it will be used for. They were also more comfortable if they knew they could see who had data about them and how it was being used. The report says these approaches, echoed in the structure of the Privacy Act itself, were particularly relevant this year, as more agencies pursued projects that involved large data sets.

The report notes that while the smart use of data has potential for positive impacts, it also carries risks. The positive impacts include more efficient resource allocation, while the risks include encoding biases and large-scale mistakes due to building systems based on flawed assumptions and inaccurate information.

The Office launched two key services in the past year: advisory opinions and our Trusted Sharing Consultancy. Advisory opinions are a service where agencies can seek the Office’s view on how the law applies in a situation. The Trusted Sharing Consultancy is a service to support agencies as they plan and implement initiatives that involve information sharing. There are many ways for agencies to achieve their policy objectives, such as consent-based sharing, Approved Information Sharing Agreements and codes of practice.

The Consultancy Service helps agencies find the best fit for their initiative. The report says part of its statutory role is to speak up when it feels agencies are getting it wrong. It publicly named five agencies this year for non-compliance with the Privacy Act. The Office also carried out an inquiry into a proposal by the Ministry of Social Development to collect individual client level data about people engaging with non-governmental organisations.

“Our inquiry found that the proposal carried a real risk of infringing on individual privacy. This inquiry resulted in the Ministry rethinking its plans to collect this level of data,” the annual report says.