'Surprising' number of requests - Privacy Commissioner on new survey findings

A Privacy Commission survey found there were 12,000 requests to ten telecommunications, utility or financial companies for personal information last year.

It's the first survey of its kind in New Zealand and is part of a push towards greater transparency by the Privacy Commissioner.

Of those 12,000 requests for information, in 1000 cases that data was handed over voluntarily.

Commissioner John Edwards says the number is surprising because under the Privacy Act police or other agencies have no right to demand information.

"They can go along and say can you help us, and here's why you should, and if the agency agrees that's necessary co-operation to have they can do that," Mr Edwards told reporters.

"If they have any doubt whatsoever, they can say we'd feel better if you had a statutory order from a court."

Mr Edwards says because it's the first survey of its kind it’s impossible to know if that number is high. He hopes to repeat the survey, but with more companies involved, every year.

Of those 12,000 requests, 4,600 came from the Inland Revenue, 3,500 from Police and 3,000 from the Ministry of Social Development.

In 96 per cent of cases, the information was eventually handed over.

Mr Edwards appeared before a select committee this morning and expressed concerns about New Zealand’s privacy laws "lagging" behind the rest of the world.