Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Privacy bill passes first Parliamentary reading

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A bill that will lower the threshold for sharing of individuals' personal information held by public and private agencies has passed its first reading in Parliament tonight.

Justice Minister Judith Collins cited child abuse and the failure of agencies to protect the most vulnerable one of reasons for the bill, the Privacy (Information Sharing) Bill 2011.

But Greens oppose the bill, saying it is an erosion of the core human right to privacy.

Judith Collins said too often after a tragedy it transpired that different agencies had information which, if shared, could have saved a child's life.

"All too often children in this country pay the price for that failure. This has to change."

At present an agency holding personal information is able to disclose it if it has reasonable grounds to believe that its disclosure would be necessary to prevent or lessen "a serious and imminent threat" to public health or public safety or to the life or health of the individual concerned or someone else.

Under the bill, the requirement to believe the threat is "imminent" will be removed. But it still must be "serious" and the agency must believe that the threat will occur.

"It makes no sense for an agency to keep information about a serious threat secret simply because that threat is not imminent," Judith Collins said.

"This change will allow medical professionals, social workers, Police, civil defence and many other key service providers to share information to help protect the lives and wellbeing of vulnerable people."

Information sharing agreements may involved public or private agencies.

The privacy Commissioner had oversight of information sharing agreements.

Labour supported the bill to select committee. Justice spokesman Charles Chauvel said it flowed from a carefully considered Law Commission report on privacy.

"Obviously an increase in Government control over New Zealanders' information needs to be carefully considered and balanced with strong safeguards."

The Greens opposed the bill with MP Jan Logie saying the bill was "an erosion of a core human right for the nebulous gain of improving public service delivery."

She did not believe there were enough check and balances in the legislation the select committee process was not adequate consultation for the erosion of such a core right. Mana opposed it as well.

New Zealand First supported with bill with Denis O'Rourke saying it was in the interests of the community. He expressed the hope that the Privacy Commissioner would be adequately resourced to meet the increased workload the work would create.

The Bill has been sent to the justice and electoral select committee which must report back to the House in it by June 15, 2012.

- NZ Herald

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