25 February 2016
Two reports caught my eye this week. First was the Amnesty International Report on Human Rights in New Zealand, and the second was the report of the Family Violence Review Committee on the state of domestic violence in New Zealand.
Amnesty International was critical of a number of aspects of human rights in New Zealand, particularly around the numbers and treatment of refugees, and also relating to aspects of our surveillance policies, in particular the “full take” approach we apparently adopt with regard to Pacific states.
The Family Violence Review Committee report highlighted the unacceptably high level of domestic violence in New Zealand, and called for all relevant government and non-government agencies to work more effectively and collaboratively towards its resolution.
While at first glance these reports may appear to have little in common there is a link between them. It relates to the vexed question of information-sharing. On the one hand, according to Amnesty International, we are insufficiently discriminating when it comes to gathering (and presumably sharing) intelligence information on our Pacific neighbours. Debate about the scope and implications of "“full take” information gathering policies has led the United States to modify its approach in the last couple of years, with Congress placing new restrictions on such practices, even if the FBI is now trying to subvert those in its current bullying of Apple over access to encrypted mobile phone data.
On the other hand, the Family Violence Review Committee report calls for greater co-operation between agencies, including more information-sharing. And this is the point of connection between the two reports.
There is a strong case for better information-sharing between agencies, when it is in the individual citizen’s interests. There is an arguable case for information-sharing when it might assist the identification of at-risk families, or aid the investigation and prevention of crime. (The jury is still out on where the boundary-line is to be drawn in these cases, between the mechanisms to be adopted, and the rights of the individual protected.) But there is no case at all on human rights and individual privacy grounds for any continuation of “full take” data-collection and information-sharing, especially when that involves data collected about other countries.
People expect governments to share information between agencies when it is in their individual interests, but they also expect governments to treat such information with due care, and to never forget that they are but the custodians of an individual’s information. It is never the government’s information, but is always that of the individual citizen, and must be respected as such. It goes without saying that it should only be used for the purposes for which it was gathered.
One way of resolving this inherent conflict might be to do what happens in Estonia. There, citizens have the right to see at any time who has been accessing their personal data. If that access is deemed inappropriate, strict criminal penalties apply. As a consequence, there have been extremely few privacy breaches. Maybe, we should be looking to implement such a protection here?