Access to our Privacy Commission shouldn't be dependent on living 5 to 10km from Auckland or Wellington, John Edwards said in Dannevirke this week.

Living up to his philosophy of trying to get out regularly to rural and provincial parts of New Zealand, Edwards conducted two sessions in Dannevirke, one for Tararua District council staff and the second a public meeting.

"It's a unique privilege to have John with us and we're thrilled to have such an interesting speaker," Joy Kopa of the Tararua District Council, said.

In a turnaround from the traditional meeting style where questions come at the end, Edwards asked people to put their questions to him at the beginning of his presentation.


Changes to the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009 has meant businesses and professional services will have to put preventative measures in place to help tackle money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

The new law now extends to include lawyers, conveyancers, accountants, real estate agents, sports and race betting and businesses dealing deal in certain high value goods and solicitors at the meeting expressed their concerns in regards to queries from real estate agents on the financial background of potential property purchasers.

There were also questions from those in the health profession about access to medical notes of deceased patients from their families and another which peaked Edwards' interest - disclosing billing information to the family of an account holder who didn't know that person had been to the medical centre for a consultation. And while he said the Privacy Act doesn't apply to the deceased, the exception is in regard to their health records information.

With 9000 queries a year and 8000 complaints annually, Edwards pointed out just because somebody makes a complaint about you it doesn't mean you have done something wrong.

"You have to have suffered genuine harm, loss or significant humiliation because this is not a trivial law," he said.

But, there is some conflict between best practice and the reality of the world we live in, Edwards said.

"We try to manage expectations and get everyone through the process as painlessly as possible," he said. "There are 12 principals which follow the life cycle of information and you have an obligation before you use information to ensure it's up-to-date and relevant."

Organisation representatives at the meeting were told they shouldn't keep personal information longer then they needed it and if they acquired information for one purpose, they shouldn't use it for another.

Edwards also has a role in overseeing our intelligence agencies and he meets with counterparts from the Five Eyes countries (Five Eyes is an anglophone intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States). And he warned about needing to be careful about the consequences of loosening up information.

"Privacy law reform is coming, with our Privacy Act having been in place for 25 years," Edwards said. "The fundamentals of the act are being retained, but modifications are included in the Bill in Parliament at the moment."

Edwards is also looking to what extent Facebook and others can be held to account.