The Privacy Commissioner discusses liaising with foreign privacy organisations.
“One of the big developments has been going global, not local. Yes, we the watchdog, the regulator has to cope with the fact that much of what is happening in the information world, the privacy world is driven by huge international corporate giants, so what we try to do, increasingly, is to work with our fellow watchdogs and regulators across the world. And in 2010, there was a very significant development of a global privacy enforcement network of which we and the US and Australia and a couple of other countries were in fact the founders. So, in other words, now if a New Zealander comes to me with a significant complaint about one of those big international companies, I can potentially refer that to the Federal Trade Commission in the US for investigation. So I think that’s going to make those global corporate giants of the Internet wake up and take notice. They’ve certainly been interested in the development and that’s a good sign.
So, just referring back to the ‘privacy is dead’ statement... No, actually don’t worry, privacy is not dead because there’s nobody there to look after you. Actually what is happening is that the watchdogs are stirring and starting to growl a little bit and they’re also starting to get together and to try and act together. So the enforcement network was one thing. The second and quite significant thing that happened, was that when that Google Buzz story broke and we became aware of it, we did get together a group of watchdogs, some from Europe, some from North America and some from New Zealand and we wrote to Google. Now, as I said, already there had been a revolt of the people – the people had taken charge and said to Google ‘hey, you can’t do that’ – but we felt it was important to follow up with a letter and say ‘hey, we the watchdogs are watching you. We weren’t very happy with this at all and we want to see you doing better in the future.’ This was a product that was developed apparently without a good examination from a privacy point of view and from the protection of the person point of view and so we wrote to them saying, ‘hey we have noticed this’. So in a sense what we were doing was putting them on notice that we’ll be watching them in the future with their new products. And then another thing that happened in 2010 was the Google Street View incident where we discovered that they were sniffing around people’s WiFi networks and accidentally, they say, picking up traffic and content information. So what happened there was that each country investigated that within their own national laws but we communicated with each other, we shared information to the extent that we could. So that was a powerful signal again to one of those global Internet giants that a small regulator in a small country, a small watchdog, isn’t necessarily completely powerless and that we will talk to each other. Just as they are pooling all of their information, we are starting to pool information in response.
So that’s a bit of a change in 2010 for the way a small watchdog agency in New Zealand operates – that we are starting to cooperate across the world in response to a global environment.”