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Legislation relating to release of private or sensitive information in New Zealand

Official Information Act 1982

The purposes of this Act are:

(a) to increase the availability of official information to the people of New Zealand

(b) to provide for proper access by each person to official information relating to that person

(c) to protect official information to the extent consistent with the public interest and the preservation of personal privacy.

Principle of availability - the information shall be made available unless there is good reason for withholding it.

Reasons for withholding official information - extensive clauses of reasons for withholding information. Main categories are information that would be likely to cause:

  • Harm to New Zealand
  • Loss of privacy of an individual
  • Breach of confidentiality of commercial information

Decisions on requests - The person seeking information must be notified within 20 working days of the decision (whether or not to provide the information). The agency must also be given the reason if a request is denied.

Extension of time limits - There are some provisions for extension of time limits.

Deletion of information from documents - Where there is good reason for withholding some of the information contained in a document, deletions or alterations can be made to withhold that information. The reason for deleting information must be given to the person seeking the information (this is typically done by quoting the relevant clause of the Act.)

The Privacy Act (1993) protects individual privacy. It states that personal information must not be collected by any agency unless the information is collected for a lawful purpose connected with a function or activity of the agency; and the collection of the information is necessary for that purpose.

Where an agency collects personal information, the agency must generally collect the information directly from the individual concerned, unless the information is publicly available.

An agency that holds personal information must ensure that the information is protected, by such security safeguards as it is reasonable in the circumstances to take, against—

(i)         loss; and

(ii)        access, use, modification, or disclosure, except with the authority of the agency that                                 holds the information; and

(iii)       other misuse.....

If it is necessary for the information to be given to a person in connection with the provision of a service to the agency, everything reasonably within the power of the agency is done to prevent unauthorised use or unauthorised disclosure of the information.

An agency that holds personal information must not keep that information for longer than is required for the purposes for which the information may lawfully be used.

Where an agency collects personal information directly from the individual concerned, the agency must take

reasonable steps to ensure that the individual concerned is aware of—

(a) the fact that the information is being collected; and

(b) the purpose for which the information is being collected; and

(c) the intended recipients of the information; and ....

Privacy officers - Every agency must have 1 or more individuals whose responsibilities include—

(a) the encouragement of compliance, by the agency, with the information privacy principles:

(b) dealing with requests made to the agency pursuant to this Act:

(c) working with the Commissioner in relation to investigations conducted pursuant to Part 8 in relation to the agency:

(d) otherwise ensuring compliance by the agency with the provisions of this Act.

The Privacy Commissioner may from time to time issue a code of practice which may modify one or more of the principles in the Act or provide guidance on application of the Act.

Public Records Act

The purposes of this Act are—

(a) to provide for the continuation of the repository of public archives called the National Archives with the

name Archives New Zealand (Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga); and

(b) to provide for the role of the Chief Archivist in developing and supporting government record-keeping, including making independent determinations on the disposal of public records and certain local authority archives; and

(c) to enable the Government to be held accountable by—

(i) ensuring that full and accurate records of the affairs of central and local government are created and maintained; and

(ii) providing for the preservation of, and public access to, records of long-term value; and

(d) to enhance public confidence in the integrity of public records and local authority records; and

(e) to provide an appropriate framework within which public offices and local authorities create and maintain public records and local authority records, as the case may be; and

(f) through the systematic creation and preservation of public archives and local authority archives, to enhance

the accessibility of records that are relevant to the historical and cultural heritage of New Zealand and to New Zealanders’ sense of their national identity; and

(g) to encourage the spirit of partnership and goodwill envisaged by the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi), as provided for by section 7; and

(h) to support the safekeeping of private records.

The Act covers a person or body owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by the Crown.

Every public office and local authority must create and maintain full and accurate records of its affairs, in accordance with normal, prudent business practice, including the records of any matter that is contracted out to an independent contractor.

Every public office and Local Authority must maintain in an accessible form, so as to be able to be used for subsequent reference, all public records that are in its control, until their disposal is authorised by or under this Act or required by or under another Act.

As soon as is reasonably practicable after the date that is 5 years from the commencement of this Act, an independent audit of record-keeping practices must be carried out in every public office.

Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987

The purposes of this Act are—

(a) to provide for the availability to the public of official information held by local authorities, and to promote the open and public transaction of business at meetings of local authorities.

(b) to provide for proper access by each person to official information relating to that person:

(c) to protect official information and the deliberations of local authorities to the extent consistent with the public interest and the preservation of personal privacy.

The specifics of the Act are very similar to those of the OIA.

Protecting (Redacting) Information

Organizations affected by these legislations need a way to release information without disclosing sections that must remain confidential. This requirement is met by using a process called ‘Redaction’, a term for blacking out the confidential information contained within documents that are to be made public.

The most effective way to perform ‘Redaction’ is by using dedicated computer software responsible for finding searched criteria and permanently removing it from redacted copies of the original documents.

RapidRedact Desktop is the most widely used software package in New Zealand for performing redaction tasks. Used for irreversibly removing sensitive information from ALL electronic document types, RapidRedact completely removes any information marked for redaction and cleans hidden code, author's changes and data from 'behind' the document. Since the content is no longer in the document, snooping or hacking into the file cannot reveal the information.

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