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Source: New Zealand InfoTech

Posted on October 19, 2001

      Overseas surveys show New Zealand Privacy Commissioner Bruce Slane that concern about insecurity of credit card details and what would happen to other personal details were the biggest inhibitors to consumers doing business on the Net.

      Even so, NZ Consumer Affairs Ministry surveys found comparatively few website owners providing clear privacy policies which might give customers some confidence.

      Now a New Zealand survey shows that privacy concerns are real. Only 10 per cent of those surveyed by UMR Research for the privacy commissioner had no concern at all about individual privacy.

      When dealing with businesses 93 per cent ranked respect for and protection of personal information almost as high as the quality of the product or service itself. Only one in a hundred thought it was not important at all.

      Perhaps businesses will now discard the old argument about privacy simply being some do-gooders' wet, liberal, political correctness that doesn't have any real basis because, "I have nothing to hide". We all have something to protect. When we give over our information to someone else we do so realizing that we are trading some of our information privacy for a benefit - the benefit of getting goods or services. But we don't want that information to be used for other purposes. Doing so alienates people to an extraordinary extent.

      Nowhere is it more important to have confidence and trust in a business than when dealing with it at a website. The principles of our Privacy Act are broadly similar to the laws in 35 other countries. But not every country yet gives legal protection for consumers if their details are abused. The United States is particularly poor at consumer protection for privacy.

      Although United States big businesses have espoused privacy principles, they have resisted effective laws. Many other countries have not. I heard someone here recently saying we needed to go back and examine whether we need a Privacy Act, whether it provides the best methods of privacy protection, and questioning whether our Act really is of international stature.

      Well, many of the 140 countries that attended the September 24 meeting of privacy and data protection commissioners in Paris would be delighted to have our Act in force in their country. It does not have prescriptive detail, allows flexibility, provides for codes of practice where desirable, and is technologically neutral.

      It is well-regarded internationally and parts of it have been adapted for other countries' laws. The Law Commission found it gave a high level of protection for the personal information of New Zealand consumers dealing with New Zealand companies.

      Our Privacy Act gives some good guidance on how open businesses should be about their information policies. Principle 3 sets out a list of things customers need to be told - who's going to get their information, who's going to hold it, what's it collected for.

      The terrorist attacks of September 11 may put pressure on individual liberties and personal privacy. As France's prime minister said at the Paris conference: "We need to take care not to lose our liberties in pursuit of their protection."

      When the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 6) was going through Parliament I made two appearances before the Law and Order Committee. I suggested several safeguards should be put in place to cover the extension of powers and questioned whether all these powers should be available without added safeguards.

      My suggestions were not generally taken up by the select committee. I think they believed people don't care about their privacy.

      The latest poll shows they do.

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