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HIV scare shows stupidity of Privacy Act: Schnauer

Reports that an Auckland primary school did not inform parents that one of its pupils had HIV because the school was not allowed to under the Privacy Act highlights the impractical stupidity of that Act, Patricia Schnauer ACT Justice Spokesman said today.

"Protecting a person's privacy is important. But equally important is the need for the wider public to be properly informed of circumstances which might hurt them.
"The rights of the minority to be protected from disclosure of adverse information are overriding the rights of the majority to be adequately informed and to make appropriate decisions about their future and their lives," Mrs Schnauer said.

"While everyone must feel great sympathy for the child, parents should have the right to know if anyone at the school has HIV so that they can make informed decisions about what to do. The care and protection of all the children is a matter for the whole school community and can only be done when all the facts are available. Rumours and speculation are often more damaging and more divisive than the truth.

"This is at least the second time within a couple of years where we have seen schools being seriously affected by the Privacy Act yet nothing is done to remedy the situation.

"Almost a parallel situation arose at a North Shore College. In that case the College employed a man who had been stealing from his previous employer. The Privacy Act stopped that previous employer telling the College the type of employee they were getting. The employee ended up stealing $1 million from the College. That loss could have been prevented if his previous record had been made known to the College.

"Protecting a person's privacy is one interest, but that right to privacy has to be balanced against the right of other citizens to be told information which could hurt them: financially, as in the College case; medically, as in the primary school case ; or in some other harmful way.

"Situations like this show the interests of the public to be informed are not adequately represented in the Privacy Act. The legislation lacks proper balance and should be significantly changed or thrown off the statute books altogether," Mrs Schnauer said.

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