The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has welcomed new Commissioner John Edwards, who replaced outgoing Commissioner Marie Shroff on 17 February 2014. Both the previous and the current Commissioners have made noteworthy comments on privacy in New Zealand.
Marie Schroff has stated that handling the "tsunami" of informational advances was a major challenge for the Office, which is an Independent Crown Entity (ICE). To meet such challenges, she cited the need for ICEs to exhibit impartiality and fairness, effectiveness, credibility, advocacy and service to clients. Another challenge was the dangerously high concentration of private, unregulated information service providers, and the lack of control over their increasingly invasive innovations. The former Commissioner referred to Google's merger with Nest in the US, which will enable domestic appliances to collect, store, share household and private information.
These concerns were supplemented with praise of the New Zealand media for recognising, for the first time at end of last year, that privacy is a right, and something that need not always be subject to security concerns or even freedom of expression. While that is what the Court of Appeal had confirmed in 2004, public perception had only now begun to change. Marie Shroff cautioned, however, that there was still a need to reassess how to deal with privacy issues. She recommended abandoning the "balancing" test, and opting instead for an approach recognising privacy and the opposing interest as two equal pillars. The previous Commissioner also noted the need for government regulators to monitor these twin pillars, hoping the reform of the Privacy Act 1993 would get under way this year. (The full text of her address is available here.)
New Privacy Commissioner John Edwards is an information lawyer, with experience advising organisations on privacy, copyright, freedom of speech and social media. He has agreed with Marie Shroff's sentiments that privacy has gained a high profile of late, and has echoed her concerns at the growing global trend of technological innovations becoming more invasive. He too has signalled the need for changes to the Privacy Act, including mandatory reporting of data breaches, which the Law Commission had previously recommended. John Edwards has also expressed an interest in making privacy more "user-friendly", so that any changes should not be result in over-prescription.
The new Commissioner has stated that agencies were not considering privacy properly because of their eagerness to connect and to share information. Systems had not been tailored to protect privacy sufficiently because of the modern preoccupation with having as much information as possible and delivering outputs as speedily as possible. Another disappointing trend was that people who had accidentally acquired personal information were using it for their own gains. Such people were typically already locked into a struggle with a large body, and the new Commissioner has recommended such people be treated fairly and properly in order to minimise the risk of wrongful use of stray information.