It’s a month since I joined the bustling team at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC). What are my first impressions?
When people heard I was taking up a job here, the kinds of questions I was asked made it clear that many people assumed that OPC’s work relates to government secrets or security.
This is seldom the case. OPC is primarily concerned with the privacy of the personal information of individuals. Information like your address, your date of birth, your credit rating, your medical records, criminal convictions and interactions with ACC, MSD, Inland Revenue and others. Our focus is on how agencies such as government departments, the bank, your GP, power company and others collect, use and manage the information they hold about you. OPC wants agencies to collect, use and manage your information consistently with the privacy principles in the Privacy Act 1993 - only using personal information for the purpose it was collected for, collecting it directly from you, disposing of it appropriately when it’s no longer needed, making sure the information is accurate, giving you access to your information and allowing you to correct it when necessary.
On my first day, I attended a seminar about the potential privacy issues raised when Police, railway and parking enforcement staff use body worn video cameras while carrying out their duties. This is happening in a few places in New Zealand and it is important for us to think through the merits and risks of increased levels of filming for public purposes.
The work here is varied. We have an energetic team of legally trained investigating officers resolving complaints mainly from individuals who are wanting to access or correct information which an agency holds about them. We have dedicated enquiries officers fielding calls and emails on all manner of privacy-related questions. Our policy team (of which I am now a member) makes sure that privacy is front and centre when government departments are considering law changes. The Office also funds privacy research.
We want to make sure that your privacy is a priority when the Government reviews the sharing of information between departments for research, service delivery or reducing violent offending. Assisted by our communications team, we strive to “make privacy easy” by informing the public, government officials and companies so we all know what we’re required to do to protect individual information and use it only for the purpose it was shared or collected.
We’re a small and nimble office of fewer than 40 staff. The beauty of this is that we all have the opportunity to try our hand at responding to your enquiries, investigating your complaints, and writing speeches, blogposts and policy papers.
This is the first time I have had the opportunity of sustained engagement with the public during my career as a civil servant. It is deeply gratifying to know that the effort I put in can have a direct and immediate benefit for a person with a query or complaint. Understanding what matters to you clarifies my role when I engage with government departments as they consider how their processes and policies affect your personal information.
If, like me, you like to write, think, solve problems, influence government policy, learn new skills, help people and stand up for something you believe in, you should consider working for us when the right opportunity arises. I’m sure you’ll be as happy here as I’ve been these last four weeks!
Image credit: Sacred kingfisher © Roger Smith via New Zealand Birds Online