Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff has today released a proposed code of practice under the Privacy Act to facilitate information sharing in response to any future national emergencies.
"The proposed new code of practice will become active whenever a state of national emergency under civil defence legislation is declared," said Ms Shroff.
"It will partially relax the normal law restricting disclosure of personal information, to allow a fast and tailored response during national emergencies. For example, the Code would allow the sharing of information to help identify individuals who have been caught up in the emergency, to help individuals to get essential services, to coordinate the management of the emergency and to make sure that people who are responsible for others are kept appropriately informed.
"The proposed code builds on our experience from the Christchurch earthquake. Immediately following the government's declaration of a state of national emergency in the February 2011 earthquake, I issued a temporary code of practice under the Privacy Act to give additional legal authority for information sharing that would help the response to the emergency. That code continued for about 4 months, and it appeared to work well. The proposed new code is closely modelled on it, and is similar to legislation overseas.
"Although national emergencies are, thankfully, exceedingly rare events, I decided that it would be prudent to issue a code that would be activated immediately upon a declaration of national emergency. Time is of the essence in responding to major emergences. Also, having a code in place means that it can be properly incorporated into planning for future major emergencies.
"Last year my office reviewed the operation of the Christchurch earthquake code with relevant government departments and a selection of people involved in the response to the emergency. However, there was obviously no opportunity before issuing that earlier code to undertake public consultation. I am therefore pleased to have the chance to seek public submissions on the proposed code and to hear people's views about whether the code strikes the right balance or is open to improvement".
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