Transparency International has joined calls by the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties to amend the government’s data and statistics bill over concerns around public privacy before politicians debate it this week.
Chair Anne Tolley, who served as Parliament's deputy speaker between 2017 and 2020, said the bill was a “step backwards” in transparency for an open government.
“We believe that allowing the government statistician to delegate their powers to others fractures the long-standing constitutional divide between statistics and government policy making,” she said.
She agreed with the NZ Council for Civil Liberties (NZCCL) – which has also been critical of the bill – that the trade-off between people's and companies’ privacy and the broader public good of well-informed decision was “bad and unbalanced legislation”.
NZCCL chair Thomas Beagle called the bill a “dangerous piece of legislation that shouldn’t be passed” in a statement on Saturday.
"It will do serious damage to public trust in government by turning Statistics NZ into a data broker,” he said.
“We really should be withdrawing this bill and sending it back for a rethink.”
The council has written to MPs asking them to fix the “worst aspects” of the bill, suggesting amendments such as the removal of the ability of the chief statistician to delegate powers to other agencies as well as the creation of a new data collection and access governance board.
The council has also asked for the reinstatement of Stats NZ to actively inform people about their obligations to complete a census rather than penalising them $2,000 for not doing it.
Beagle said the bill wasn’t urgent and didn’t need to be passed before the next census.
“Getting this once-in-a-generation legislation right is more important than rushing it through,” he said.
“But if this doesn’t happen, we hope MPs from all parties will support these amendments to fix the worst excesses of the bill.”
NZCCL told BusinessDesk in May that the government failed to assess the privacy impacts of the data and statistics bill thoroughly enough before it was introduced to parliament.