21 February, 2013
Bills to improve and safeguard information sharing passed
Legislation to improve information sharing between agencies that deliver public services has passed its final reading in Parliament today.
Justice Minister Judith Collins says the new laws will clarify and improve the rules around how government agencies share personal information, while ensuring safeguards are in place to protect individual’s privacy.
“These changes pave the way for better services for all New Zealanders, from improving our ability to protect vulnerable children, to reducing duplication and information handling costs.
“The new laws give greater flexibility and certainty about when and how public services providers can share information, and reinforces their obligations to safeguard people’s privacy,” Ms Collins says.
The Privacy Act will be amended to allow new information sharing agreements between government agencies, and between government agencies and non-government organisations that deliver public services.
The changes also ensure that agencies (such as medical professionals, social workers, Police, Civil Defence and others) can share personal information to address serious threats to public health or safety, or when a person’s life or health is threatened. Previously a threat had to be both “serious and imminent”.
“In some cases, serious threats to lives, safety or health are not going to eventuate immediately, but waiting until the last minute risks leaving too much to chance and putting people in harm’s way. It does not make sense to keep information about a serious threat secret, just because that threat is not about to happen,” Ms Collins says.
In earlier stages of the Parliamentary process, the legislation was known as the Privacy (Information Sharing) Bill, but it was split into the three bills during the recent Committee of the Whole House stage. The three bills are the Privacy Amendment Bill, the Tax Administration Amendment Bill, and the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Amendment Bill.
The two latter Bills clear the way for the Inland Revenue Department and the Department of Internal Affairs to use approved information sharing agreements. Without the new Bills, existing legislation would restrict their ability to use such agreements.
The Bills are part of the Government’s wider reform of privacy legislation, including the Privacy Act 1993. The Government has previously announced it will repeal and re-enact the Privacy Act, once it finishes considering recommendations from the Law Commission’s recent review.