Kiwis asked to 'stand tall' for freedom and privacy

Hank Wolfe
Hank Wolfe
University of Otago computer security specialist Associate Prof Hank Wolfe is urging a ''major rethink'' on data privacy issues, after several controversial developments, including moves towards greatly increased data sharing by government departments.

A New Zealand Herald story published in the Otago Daily Times last week reported the number of deals to share the private details of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders could increase by more than half, with more than 30 new agreements between government agencies being explored.

Private information already being shared included names, birth dates, incomes, tax numbers, travel plans and ACC claims.

Prof Wolfe, of the university's information science department, also took issue with earlier law changes involving the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), saying New Zealanders should ''stand tall once again for freedom and privacy''.

We had previously ''stood tall'' over nuclear ship issues by refusing to allow atomic-powered and/or armed vessels in our national waters.

Kiwis should also make a stand over the proposed increased data sharing and other threats to personal privacy.

''That's a vast over-reach,'' he said, about the extra data-sharing.

''I don't think it's a good idea.''

Data sharing was already extensive and he was unconvinced by official claims that even more was needed to protect youngsters against child abuse.

Everyone agreed children should be protected but this could be achieved in other ways, he said.

Concern has also been voiced in the community about a series of blunders by several government agencies involving the accidental release of private data about clients, including an email containing the names of 6724 ACC claimants mistakenly sent by ACC to an Auckland woman in 2011. About 470 of these names were of Dunedin and other Otago people.

Prof Wolfe said the overall situation involving private data held by government departments ''doesn't inspire any confidence whatsoever''.

New Zealand had not yet become a ''surveillance society'' but there was a strong trend in that direction, including recently revised legislation that allowed the GCSB to become involved in domestic monitoring and dealing with external threats.

He said New Zealanders should ask: ''Do we want that?''Privacy was a basic human right enshrined in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stated that no-one ''shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence''.

He was also concerned that, under new information-sharing guidelines, New Zealanders living overseas who had not paid taxes, child support or student loan repayments could be tracked when they sought to renew their passports, and tax letters sent to the address they provided.

This approach was starting to impinge on another basic human right, that of ''freedom of movement'', including overseas travel, which was also enshrined in the Universal Declaration, he said.

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