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Privacy Complaint Upheld

Posted on: Feb 22, 2015

20 February 2015

The Privacy Act 1993 is based around 12 “information privacy principles”.  The privacy principles impact on an employment relationship from recruitment through to termination and employers must bear them in mind.

The privacy principles cover the collection, storage, use, retention, access to and disclosure of personal information by an agency.  Personal information is information about identifiable, living people. “Agency” is given a very wide definition in section 2, and includes an employer.

Principle 11 of the Act was considered by the Privacy Commissioner in Case Note 256145 [2015] NZ PrivCmr 2 11 February 2015. Principle 11 states that an agency that holds personal information must not disclose that information unless it has reasonable grounds to believe that one of the exceptions applies. An agency can disclose information if it reasonably believes, for example:

  • disclosure is one of the purposes for which the agency got the information
  • disclosure is necessary to uphold or enforce the law
  • disclosure is necessary for court proceedings
  • the person concerned authorised the disclosure, and
  • the information is going to be used in a form that does not identify the person concerned.

In this case note, a woman made complaints about the work practices of her employer to a government agency and asked the agency to make sure her name remained confidential.  The agency sent an inspector to visit the woman’s workplace and he showed the employer his notes, and in doing so accidentally disclosed the woman’s name to the employer. The woman complained to the Privacy Commissioner and said her employment relationship had broken down as a result of the disclosure and that she was abused and humiliated by her employer.

The Privacy Commissioner said that none of the exceptions to Principle 11 applied and Principle 11 had been breached. After a meeting between the employee and the agency the matter was settled. The agency apologised and paid the woman’s legal fees and some compensation in recognition of the fact that she had lost her job.

Case notes can be accessed at www.privacy.org.nz

Disclaimer

This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.

Disclaimer

This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.

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