The Government plans to proceed with an overhaul of New Zealand’s 20-year-old Privacy Act, the Justice Minister announced yesterday.  

This is a long-awaited development following an initial statement by the Justice Minister two years ago that the Government planned to repeal and re-enact the Privacy Act. The proposed reform will aim to make significant improvements to privacy law, and deliver stronger protections to personal information.

A specific timeframe for the introduction of the Bill has not yet been announced. The Government intends to commence the process by carrying out targeted technical consultation.

A core focus of the reform will be updating the Privacy Act to reflect advances in technology since the Privacy Act came into force and to accommodate developing technology in future. The Minister highlighted that methods by which personal information is collected, stored and shared by businesses and government agencies has changed dramatically since the Privacy Act came into force.

It is anticipated that the reform will also be based on the recommendations of the Law Commission in its report on the Privacy Act in 2011. The Law Commission’s report called for a wide range of reforms, including:

  • streamlining the complaints process, allowing for groups of people to bring “representative” complaints;

  • introducing new powers for the Privacy Commissioner, including the ability to:

    • provide guidance on how to comply with the Privacy Act;

    • make binding decisions on complaints where a person’s request for information about him or herself has been refused; and

    • order an agency (through issuing a compliance notice) to fix business practices that breach the Privacy Act;

  • introducing mandatory notification obligations to report a data breach to the Privacy Commissioner and the affected individuals; and

  • creating new offences and increased fines for breaches, to a maximum of $10,000.

The proposed reform follows increasing public interest in privacy law and high profile privacy breaches. The results of a recent survey by the Privacy Commissioner show that 50 percent of New Zealanders have felt ‘more concerned’ about privacy issues over the last few years. Also, the results of the two-yearly “Individual Privacy & Personal Information” survey carried out by UMR Research indicate that most New Zealanders are concerned about their credit card or banking details being stolen, identity theft, and businesses sharing information with other businesses without their permission.

In the announcement yesterday, the Justice Minister said that it is vital that New Zealanders have confidence in our privacy laws, and that people know their information is in safe hands. The proposed reform intends to put strong incentives in place to ensure businesses, government departments and other organisations take privacy seriously.