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Privacy Commissioner calls for repeal of "intrusive" data matching powers

Privacy Commissioner calls for repeal of "intrusive" data matching powers

Exceptional powers granted by Parliament and never used "show up a weakness in the system"

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards is recommending the repeal of 22 government information matching provisions, after a review showed many of them were never used.

Information matching provisions are enacted by Parliament to allow the sharing of information in ways that would otherwise breach the Privacy Act’s information privacy principles.

“I am concerned these exceptional powers have been sought by officials, agreed to by Ministers, enacted by Parliament, and then never used," Edwards said. "It shows up a weakness in the system and demonstrates the importance of having robust policy development procedures in advance of enacting such provisions.”

Edwards said the unused information matching provisions did not deliver their intended benefits to society and continuing Parliamentary authorisation of these "intrusive" measures was unjustified.

A wide variety of government agencies use information matching to find records in different data sets that are about the same person - they use it for a range of reasons such as ensuring people get their correct entitlements or detecting fraud.

Section 106 of the Privacy Act requires the Privacy Commissioner to review the operation of the provision to consider whether the authority conferred should be continued and whether any amendments to the provision are necessary or desirable.

An Office of the Privacy Commissioner report details the findings.

In addition, Edwards said as part of his review, he consulted department chief executives on whether agencies were using the provisions or had any plans to use them.

“I have found that agencies have no active plans to use the majority of the unused information matching provisions I have reviewed," he added.

"Many of these provisions were never used after Parliament enacted them. Agencies used some provisions for a limited period before abandoning them.”

Edwards said such examples underscore the importance of a rigorous and disciplined policy process.

"Given the considerable resources involved in enacting provisions, Parliament should expect officials to conduct full due diligence to support future claims that privacy overrides are necessary to achieve public policy objectives," he said.

Some of the legislation which have information matching provisions are the Accident Insurance Act 1998, the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Act 1995, the Customs and Excise Act 1996, the Immigration Act 2009, the Social Security Act 1964, the Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters Act 1992, and the Tax Administration Act 1994.


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