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Barking up the wrong tree John Edwards
26 August 2014

app dog guard edit 6

Since the publication of Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics, I’ve received a number of complaints and enquiries from people concerned about the book’s content. Each of those matters will receive the due consideration afforded to each of the 800 plus complaints and 9000 enquiries dealt with by this Office each year.

One of the complaints to my office was from the Green Party. It suggested that I should be investigating the reported disclosure by the Minister of Justice, of the contact details and job title of a public servant, to the blogger Cameron Slater.

The request for the investigation did not come from the public servant who was the subject of the disclosure. I advised the Greens that the Privacy Act gives me the discretion to refuse to investigate a matter where the complainant (in this case, the Green Party) does not have a sufficient personal interest in the subject matter of the complaint.

One commentator said last week that there was no point in having watchdogs that won’t bark.

The Privacy Act is fundamentally concerned with the preservation and promotion of individual autonomy. It protects the right of an individual to determine, or at least influence, the extent to which their personal information is placed into the public domain and becomes the subject of public discussion.

That purpose would not be served if we were to investigate a complaint in a highly politicised and publicised environment that is neither on behalf of, nor supported by, the affected individual.

As for the other complaints I have received, if we find barking is warranted, then the public can be assured we will bark. What we won’t do is howl at the moon.

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  • What an excellent response

    Posted by Barry Pennell, 26/08/2014 4:48pm (23 days ago)

    • I thought that was an excellent reply too.

      I live in Australia and im going to show off this example of how functional and actually working our system is to my Aussie mates ..

      theyll all be jealous

      well done nz and well done privacy commissioner

      Posted by Jade Gray, 28/08/2014 9:57am (21 days ago)

    • Post Reply

      The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

      • "That purpose would not be served if we were to investigate a complaint in a highly politicised and publicised environment that is neither on behalf of, nor supported by, the affected individual."

        How do we know such an investigation is not supported by the affected individual?
        I would contest that there are a great number of individuals who are affected by knowing the Minister of Justice won't be held to account for unethical behaviour that contravenes the privacy principles in the Privacy Act.
        Perhaps your Aussie mates will be a bit more capable of assessing whether our system is actually working... or not.

        Posted by Tobias Tohill, 07/09/2014 12:20pm (11 days ago)

      • Post Reply

        The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • Dear Sir,
    I believe the Green Party speaks for the ordinary New Zealander in this case. I work in Local Government and as such am constrained by my code of conduct in employment, not to divulge personal details of any customers. This also applies to my workmates.
    Surely Ms Collins and Mr Key and their offices, are similarly constrained in their public positions, not to give out private contact details and information, to other persons, particularly political bloggers?
    Surely any reasonable person would consider this to be a contravention of the Privacy Act?

    yours truly

    Ms C Kitt

    Posted by C Kitt, 26/08/2014 5:09pm (23 days ago)

  • Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • Woof!!

    Posted by EddyM , 26/08/2014 5:59pm (23 days ago)

  • Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • This post is trivializing the seriousness of these allegations, a threat to New Zealand as a democratic state. You have discretion, be part of the solution, not the problem. As we have seen with the private prosecution that was needed to remove a criminal from Parliament, NZ govt. agencies are failing to serve the public. Please investigate.

    Posted by Bill Young, 27/08/2014 3:16am (23 days ago)

  • Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • "Ms Collins also claimed the Privacy Commissioner had cleared her of any wrong-doing over the passing on of details about a public servant to Mr Slater." - RadioNZ

    Is it not worth investigating this issue so that the minister, and other ministers, realises this kind of behaviour will be met with resistance as opposed to in-deference to wrong doing?

    Posted by Luke, 27/08/2014 8:53am (22 days ago)

  • Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • Absolutely disappointing. Collins admitted to leaking the name to Slater and we know, through leaked emails, the intent was to do damage to the individual. It is utterly shameful that the Privacy Commission is not investigating this extremely immoral, and with intent to harm, lack of discretion.

    Posted by Art, 27/08/2014 9:15am (22 days ago)

  • Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • I am a worker considering employment in a government department. If I were in the same position as this public servant, I would be too scared to lodge a complaint with you.

    I would be concerned it would severely limit my career and future employment opportunities in both the public and private sectors. I would fear the intense scrutiny I and my family would be subjected to by the press. And most importantly, I would fear that the secret apparatus of the state may be turned against me to embarrass and discredit me in the public's eye. I do not think this is an unreasonable fear, given recent revelations.

    It is shocking that a government should use its power and privilege to smear an individual in this way. This is a totally unfair situation and an intense burden for an individual to carry.

    Given the imbalance of power evident in this situation, it is in the public's interest for you to act on our behalf and accept this complaint raised by the Green Party. I believe you should not take exception to this complaint because it has not been raised by the named public servant.

    Finally, a discretion sounds like an exceptional procedure, designed to deal with exceptional circumstances. Please provide more detail on the nature of this discretion so we may understand why this is available to you and why you consider it to be a valid course of action in the present circumstances.

    Thank you for providing an opportunity to comment on your procedures.

    Posted by Annette Bergner, 27/08/2014 9:23am (22 days ago)

  • Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • Kiaora

    After listening to a Radio New Zealand report this morning, I understand the situation from your perspective and I can appreciate the fact that the "Privacy Act protects the right of an individual to determine the extent ‎to which their personal information is placed into the public domain".

    I do hope Mr Pleasants via the union that represents public servants ‎such as himself, pursues and not "bark" (like Fran O'Sullivan does incessantly in her moomoo-eyed over John Key articles), and beats a pathway to your door, Mr Edwards.

    That being said, so from this statement, I garner also that Cameron Slater will, if he hasn't done so already, file a complaint against a #whaledump or Nicky Hager for publishing his vile and rancid personal information into the public domain.

    Death threats against one's person and family members, placed in the public domain via a whaleblog, that has had the impact on a family that I would say have been the Victims of a Crime a most heinous Crime at that, I would take rather seriously.

    Absolutely constitutionally reprehensible.

    Posted by Siena, 27/08/2014 10:13am (22 days ago)

  • Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • I would like to amend my closing question to instead ask why you chose to use your discretion in this negative way.

    For example, you might have instead exercised your discretion to accept the complaint, given the shocking nature of the allegations, which remain unanswered by the government, its ministers and the prime minister.

    I would prefer it if you did not use dismissive phrases such as 'howl at the moon'. If the minister took these actions, then this government has invoked a constitutional crisis that must be resolved. All matters related to this should be addressed with dignity and rigour.

    Posted by Annette Bergner, 27/08/2014 10:49am (22 days ago)

  • Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • How can we expect this decision to be impartial when the Minister that appointed the staff of this office, and who they report to is the person under question?

    Posted by Charlie Pike, 27/08/2014 11:39am (22 days ago)

  • Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

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