The Privacy Commissioner has again strongly criticised legislation as giving wide-ranging and unwarranted powers to officials to share Kiwis' private information.

John Edwards said as currently drafted anti-money laundering legislation would give officials "blank cheques" to share private information, without proper oversight.

Edwards told a Parliamentary committee today that there were a number of problems in how the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Amendment Bill proposed to control information sharing between government agencies and departments.

One new section in the legislation states that in the absence of regulations, information sharing can be authorised by a written agreement between agencies.


"It unnecessarily extends the ability to share beyond the direct supervision of Parliament, and says that officials can enter into these agreements," Edwards said.

"These are essentially blank cheques to enter into these side agreements that don't have even any executive oversight let alone any Parliamentary oversight."

That provision should be scrapped outright, Edwards said. Another problem was a very broad definition of "law enforcement" in a clause that stated information could be disclosed to an agency or regulator for law enforcement purposes.

The law currently stated what such law enforcement information included, Edwards said.

"We have moved to a draft which says law enforcement information includes. Now, to a lawyer that is a green light - that means we have thrown off the shackles and opened up that ability to share information to a very wide range."

The anti-money laundering legislation passed its first reading in March with support of all parties. It extends anti-money laundering and countering terrorism legislation to lawyers, conveyancers, accountants, real estate agents and sports and racing betting.

They will need to take steps to know who their customers are on whose behalf they act when undertaking certain activities, and large cash transactions will need to be reported, as will suspicious activity.

Edwards' warnings on the legislation mirror concerns he raised in March about an overhaul of the laws covering the Customs Service. Those would give Customs' chief executive "unprecedented" power to share New Zealanders' personal information, Edwards said.


Today, Edwards told the law and order committee he was heartened his concerns had been listened to and the Customs legislation changed to ensure oversight that meant information sharing at least came under the regulations review committee.