Media release: Last chance to fix the Data and Statistics Bill

With the overreaching Data and Statistics Bill going to the Committee of the Whole House this week, the NZ Council for Civil Liberties has written to MPs asking them to pass amendments to fix the worst aspects.

“This is a dangerous piece of legislation that should not be passed. It will do serious damage to public trust in government by turning Statistics NZ into a data broker. If MPs are unwilling to stop this Bill being passed, they should pass the amendments we propose to return it to being a Bill about official statistics rather than a wholesale grab of New Zealanders’ data so that it can be shared for ill-defined ‘research’ purposes or worse,” says NZCCL chairperson Thomas Beagle.

He continues, “The desire to ‘collect it all’ seems to be copied from the big internet companies and creates a massive data store about New Zealanders that is only very loosely de-identified, and could be easily re-identified when shared with agencies such as the Police and Security Intelligence Service.”

“The Chief Statistician’s ability to delegate data-collection and data-sharing powers to other agencies, and a desire to capture as much data as possible from ordinary New Zealanders’ interactions with government, rather than from surveys and censuses, means that the NZSIS and Police can obtain our data without a warrant. We believe that this Bill will lead to a loss of trust in both Statistics NZ and government as a whole.”

Our proposed amendments:

  • Keep the definition from the 1975 Act that data is collected and used solely for the purpose of official statistics by removing “or desirable for research”.
  • Remove the new data sharing section in its entirety (as also recommended by the Chief Ombudsman in his submission).
  • Remove the ability of the Chief Statistician to delegate their powers to other agencies (as also recommended by Sir Geoffrey Palmer and former Chief Statistician Len Cook).
  • Add the creation of a new Data Collection and Access Governance Board with wide-ranging representation rather than leaving all decisions solely in the hands of the Chief Statistician.
  • Reinstate the obligation for Statistics NZ to actively inform people about their obligations to complete a census, rather than ending up penalising people $2000 for not filling in something that they don’t even know about.

We have written a briefing note to MPs with more detail about the issues with the Bill and our suggestions for amending it.

“We really should be withdrawing this Bill and sending it back for a rethink. It’s not urgent and doesn’t need to be passed before the next census, and getting this once-in-a-generation legislation right is more important than rushing it through,’ says Thomas Beagle, “But if this doesn’t happen we hope MPs from all parties will support these amendments to fix the worst excesses of the Bill.”


Ombudsman submission

Len Cook and Geoffrey Palmer comments