When is what we do private?

The front page of the DomPost today broke the news that in the Wairarapa, community agencies who work with families share information about police call-outs for domestic violence.

The article opens with:

Privacy broken to save lives
Police are flouting privacy laws to save the lives of domestic violence victims.

The remainder of the article describes the situations which domestic violence experts – the Wairarapa police and local Refuge – believe require them to share information.  There is also a brief comment from Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff:

“We don’t expect the police or other government agencies to share our information without a good reason for doing so. For example, it may be necessary … to disclose information to avert a threat to someone’s safety.”

The original sentence, though, suggesting sharing information about domestic violence is flouting the law, is otherwise left intact.

This is odd – since the Privacy Act is very explicit about the occasions on which information may be legally shared – this from the Act itself, with my emphasis:

Principle 10 Limits on use of personal information
An agency that holds personal information that was obtained
in connection with one purpose shall not use the information
for any other purpose unless the agency believes, on reasonable
(d) That the use of the information for that other purpose is
necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent
threat to

(i) Public health or public safety; or
(ii) The life or health of the individual concerned or
another individual

Now given the Privacy Act itself allows agencies to share information when there is a serious and imminent threat to safety….well, wouldn’t you think that might be relevant to this article?  Otherwise it seems to me, we are left with a sense of domestic violence crusaders blithely over-riding rights to privacy.

Which appears to be misleading.  More homework, please – legislation may not be fun to read, but it’s kinda important.



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