Correction of personal information and intrusive collection

Two recent case notes from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner usefully discuss the application of principles 6 and 7 of the Privacy Act 1993 (right to access personal information and right to request correction of personal information), and principles 1, 3 and 4 (lawful purpose for collecting personal information, telling the individual before such collection, and collection in a manner that is unlawful or unreasonably intrusive).

Woman wants to correct record of wilful damage incident

A woman complained to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner that Police failed to adequately respond to her request for information about a wilful damage incident at her home in 2015. The woman said Police made a significant mistake in noting her account of the incident and she had tried without success to get Police to change it.

The incident involved a boarder who had been lodging at the woman’s rented home until she asked him to leave because he was unreliable in paying board. On leaving, the boarder made threats to the woman and, soon afterwards, someone smashed a pane of glass in the front door. The incident was captured on the woman’s security camera.

Just after the damage happened, the woman called Police. A Police officer took down the woman’s version of the events and she was able to also show him the security camera footage of the incident.

Afterwards, the woman emailed the officer several times for a copy of the incident report but did not get a response. She followed up several months later in early 2016 by calling the Police station and talking to a staff member who noted her request. A couple of weeks later, she received an email from the Police officer who dealt with her case at the time. His email to her included a summary of the case.

The Police account stated the boarder smashed the front door glass pane as he left the property. In the Police account, the person who smashed the door was identified as the boarder. The woman said this was wrong. The boarder had moved out earlier that evening before an unidentified person came to the house and smashed the door.

The woman said her impression, supported by images on her security camera, is that the door was smashed half an hour after the boarder had left. She was adamant the boarder did not smash the door as he was leaving and, additionally, the security camera footage showed the assailant had a hoody on and could not be clearly identified.

The woman complained to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner because she believed Police had not supplied her with all the information about her case. In particular, she wanted a copy of what she called the incident report that she had signed at the time. She was at a loss as to how the Police officer could say in his summary that the boarder broke the glass door pane, when the offender had come from the street and had covered his face.

The woman’s complaint raised issues under Principle 6 of the Privacy Act, which gives people the right to access personal information about them.

Principle 6 says where an agency holds personal information about a person, that person is entitled to obtain confirmation from the agency on whether or not it holds such personal information, and to have access to the information. Principle 6 also says that where a person is given access to their personal information, they should be advised that they may request the information be corrected (see principle 7).

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner contacted Police and explained the complaint. Police responded by providing a copy of the incident report but did not include a signed copy. The woman was insistent she had signed a copy on the night of the incident and that was what she wanted to see, because she believed it was her definitive account of what happened.

By now Police were sure they had provided the woman with her entire case file. But the woman said a signed copy of her statement was still missing. After further contact between the Office’s investigator and Police, one of the officers who attended the incident discovered an electronic document which was most likely the document the woman was seeking. It was sent to the woman and Police concluded all the information had been sent and nothing had been withheld.

However, the woman continued to be concerned the information Police had about the incident was not the full account of what happened. The Office’s investigator then discussed principle 7 with the woman and explained how to add a statement of correction to the Police file.

Principle 7 gives a person the right to request correction of personal information. If a correction is sought but not made by the agency, the person is entitled to have a statement of correction attached to the information.

The woman advised the investigator she would write a statement of correction to be included in the Police file on her case. She thanked the investigator for his help, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner closed its file.

[Case note 282974 [2017] NZ PrivCmr 7]

Couple complains about neighbours’ security camera

A couple complained to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner that one of their neighbours’ security cameras could film into their lounge windows and parts of their garden and pool area.

In their complaint, the couple included photos of the camera which overlooked parts of their property – a large house on a big section with a swimming pool. The couple said the relationship with their neighbours – whom they said operated a bed and breakfast business – had gone from bad to worse, culminating in the installation of the camera.

Up until the time the camera was set up, the two households had traded accusations over a range of other issues, even involving lawyers and the local policeman.

The couple said the camera was an intrusion into their privacy because it could record their activity “every minute of the day and night”. At night time, it appeared the camera was operated by a motion sensor because a red light would flash on and off when either of the couple moved or adjusted their blinds.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner contacted the neighbours who owned the house with the CCTV camera and explained the nature of the complaint. The neighbours were notified that the complaint could raise issues under principles 1, 3 and 4 of the Privacy Act.

These principles set out an agency’s obligations when collecting personal information. Principle 1 says an agency must have a lawful purpose, connected with its function, for collecting personal information. Principle 3 sets out what an agency must tell an individual before it collects his or her personal information. Principle 4 says information should not be collected in a manner that is unlawful or unreasonably intrusive.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner asked the neighbours a number of questions including whether their cameras were pointed at the neighbours, were the cameras recording information, and did any cameras capture footage of the inside of the neighbours’ home?

The neighbours explained that the camera in question was a cheap plastic dummy camera, used as an “intruder deterrent”, as they lived in a remote, exposed location, and the property had been burgled previously while they had been away overseas. The neighbours believed the camera did not contravene any Privacy Act principles. They clarified that their home was not a bed and breakfast operation (as had been claimed) and they were a “private couple living at a private address”.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner accepted the assurances given by the neighbours and went back to the complainants. The Office explained there was no evidence their neighbours were collecting any personal information because the camera was a dummy camera to deter burglars.

In the circumstances, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner had reached the end of its process and was unable to take any action. The complainants were satisfied by this and thanked the Office for its work on their complaint and the file was closed.

[Case note 280679 [2017] NZ PrivCmr 6] For more from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, please visit https://privacy.org.nz/news-and-publications/case-notes-and-court- decisions/

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