Rodney Hide: Kiwi Big Brother is watching you

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Our personal information is being hoovered up by Government agencies on a massive scale. Photo / AP
Our personal information is being hoovered up by Government agencies on a massive scale. Photo / AP

In the US, Apple is fighting the FBI's court order to unlock a dead terrorist's iPhone. The terrorist, with his wife, massacred 14 people in San Bernardino last year.

It's a tough case. There is not a lot of sympathy for murdering terrorists, but Apple says complying with the FBI's warrant would set a precedent for all Apple users.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand our companies fall over themselves to give private information when a Government department asks for it.

The Government mostly needs no warrant and companies hand over information even if not legally obligated to do so. The Government asks, companies provide.

The Privacy Commissioner reports the big three that ask for information are the Inland Revenue, the Ministry of Social Development and police. These three departments issued 11,333 information requests to just 10 companies - two telcos, seven financial services companies and one utility.

The Privacy Commissioner found " virtually 100 per cent" compliance. The only non-compliance was when the individuals concerned weren't customers - so the companies didn't have the information.

The police need a warrant for the bulk of the requests they make. Thanks to powers given by Parliament, the IRD and Social Development don't. We're not talking information about gun-toting, murdering terrorists but everyday taxpayers and beneficiaries.

In 2012, the IRD served Trade Me with a notice demanding the details of nearly one million customers. To Trade Me's great credit it resisted the demand and after much to-ing and fro-ing provided information on 44,368 customers. That's still an astonishing number.

It is worrying there were more than 11,000 requests on just 10 sampled companies over three months - but consider this: the IRD's request for personal data on one million customers would count as just one request.

Our personal information is being hoovered up by Government agencies on a massive scale. And there is no obligation on the companies or Government departments to tell us.

Last year, there was a great ballyhoo about our spy agencies undertaking "mass surveillance".

The concern was laudable but misdirected. The mass surveillance is already under way and it's not our spy agencies but the IRD and MSD.

The Privacy Commissioner shows companies are all too ready to hand over information even when they are not legally obligated to do so.

Government departments have used the companies you shop, bank and trade with to gather your personal information. And you don't know what they have or why. You can't escape their net.

You can choose not to be on a benefit but you can't choose not to be a taxpayer.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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