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Cleaning muddy slates in an online world John Edwards
23 February 2016

1280px Chalkboard eraser Waldorf School East Lexington MA

Minister of Internal Affairs Peter Dunne said today that he wanted the Clean Slate Act reviewed to make sure it was working properly.

The Clean Slate Act is a piece of legislation specifying that people can have the details of certain relatively minor offences suppressed, as long as they avoid a subsequent conviction for seven years.  

Minister Dunne would like to see this scope expanded. A significant number of convictions – such as those requiring a custodial sentence or a license suspension – are not covered. This creates a situation where people have to disclose convictions from 20 or more years ago to potential employers, even if they have stayed out of trouble in the interim. Examples include drink-driving convictions where the individual had his or her license suspended.

Minister Dunne intends to write to  Justice Minister Amy Adams about this issue. She has indicated that while she has yet to hear from him, she is open to looking at the law to make sure that it is still working.

Clean slates and news media

We welcome the Minister’s enthusiasm to look at the law, because there’s another component that deserves investigation and possible change. A number of newspapers in New Zealand have a practice of publishing the names and conviction details of everyone prosecuted in the local court. This includes those convictions covered by the Clean Slate Act.

This effectively nullifies the intended effect of the Act for these people, as most newspapers are now online as well as in print. A quick Google search for someone’s name can unearth details that were suppressed by the Clean Slate Act.

Further, the newspapers that publish the details of petty crime tend to be in smaller towns, as it’s impractical for larger metropolitan newspapers to print the details of every conviction. So the Clean Slate Act effectively increases the consequences of relatively minor offences for people who live in small towns. This does not seem fair, particularly in the context of the economic opportunity gap between urban and rural New Zealand.  

This issue is one of the loose collection of issues covered by the still-developing idea of the “right to be forgotten,” which we wrote about in 2014.  That is, the idea that some public information might become private after a certain amount of time has passed.  

The Clean Slate Act was one of New Zealand’s first “right to be forgotten” laws. Perhaps it is time to look at what responsibility media have to let people move on. If a quick Google search is all it takes to find someone’s past transgressions, then in practical terms, their slate isn’t very clean at all.   

Image credit: John Phelan via Wikimedia Commons

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  • What should be the upper limit of that media suppression of names in searches? At which point can I search to find records about my forebears?
    80 years, to match the birth certificate search limitation makes sense to me.

    Posted by Keith, 24/02/2016 4:47pm (18 months 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.

  • You wrote above "Examples include drink-driving convictions where the individual had his or her license suspended" (sic). Your example is mischievous.

    The permanent loss of the benefit of the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act in drink-driving cases only applies when a personal has been INDEFINITELY DISQUALIFIED from driving. It takes repeat drink-drive convictions before a person is considered for indefinite disqualification, and they are also compelled by law to attend an alcohol and drug assessment. This is far more serious than the facile example you used in your article to support a review of the Act.

    Posted by Chris Griffiths, 24/02/2016 11:45pm (18 months ago)

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    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.

  • My family supported a member to appeal an arson conviction from 9 years ago. He had plead guilty against his lawyers advice for the wrong reasons. The summary of fact was never disputed and contained serious errors. The appeal was not allowed as the court would not allow an extension of time for leave to appeal. What was even more disastrous was the local paper reported on it and that included all the details of the summary of fact. The long uphill battle this family member had to rebuild their life and move on was all undone by the naming and shaming all over again by the local paper. The effect on my family member has been disasterous and he is seriously depressed. The reporting is online and causing ongoing distress. After 9 years there should be a right to be forgotten and a chance to move on. The Clean Slate Act serves no purpose if online reporting can remain indefinitely.

    Posted by Tracey Stone, 21/03/2017 10:26pm (5 months 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.

  • Having read through the Clean Slate Act, the convictions the Act 'wipes' and the people it protects I'm curious as to why children aren't taken into consideration. ALL custodial sentences cannot be 'wiped' including borstal sentences which only involve children. As a man now 53 I was sentenced to borstal as a 17 year old for ultimately 12 months and it is a custodial sentence which appears on any list of convictions. So much for paying your debt to society and I just wonder who the Clean Slate Act is designed to protect in the first place given children are apparently too young to be responsible enough to vote, too young to be able to buy alcohol legally yet old enough to carry the burden of a custodial sentence throughout their lives. Surely the adult offenders were old enough to know better in the first place and therefore ARE responsible for their actions under the eyes of the law so why are they given a second chance yet children aren't?

    Posted by Graham, 08/05/2017 2:45am (3 months 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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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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