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New Zealand 'Big Brother' Awards


New Zealand 'Big Brother' Awards - Hosted by the Auckland Council for Civil Liberties

Media release Thursday 29 April 2004

Government Wins Top Anti-Privacy Awards.

New Zealand’s first “Big Brother Awards” were announced at an awards ceremony at Auckland Art Gallery this evening. The awards, for outstanding contributions to the abuse of privacy in New Zealand, are modelled on Big Brother Awards held annually in many countries around the world.

The big awards this year went to Government Ministers and others responsible for a series of draconian new “anti-terrorism” and surveillance laws. Ministers Phil Goff and Paul Swain earned special mention. The corporate award went to Baycorp, the government department award to the spy agency GCSB and “long-term menace” award went to public registers of personal information.

The two awards for champions of privacy – those who have done exemplary work to protect and enhance this elusive right – went to Bruce Slane, the former Privacy Commissioner, jointly with Blair Stewart, the Assistant Privacy Commissioner; and to Associate Professor Peter Wills of Auckland University. The full list of winners and the judges' reasons are attached.

The judges were faced with a difficult task because of the number of deserving nominations received from the public. Those who missed the big honours – but who can compete again next year – included MPs Wayne Mapp, Stephen Franks, Helen Clark and Deborah Coddington, finance company Pacific Retail Finance and government agencies Housing NZ and NZ Police.

Big Brother Awards spokesperson, Tim McBride, said that the awards were established to give well-earned prominence to people and organisations who have exhibited outstanding negligence or disregard for the public’s right to privacy. They will be an annual event. “We predict that there will be a steady supply of individuals and organisations that stand out for special public recognition as Big Brother Award winners in future years.”

He thanked the judges, who are university lecturers and practising specialists in privacy law, and urged the winners to reflect seriously on why they were picked out for these honours.

2004 BIG BROTHER AWARD WINNERS

Person of the Year – supreme winner, for outstanding abuse or disregard of privacy and civil liberties in New Zealand . . . .

Joint Winners: All the Ministers and politicians responsible for recent new “anti-terrorism” and surveillance legislation in New Zealand.

Most nominations for this category focused on people who had been instrumental in passing New Zealand's anti-terrorism legislation, and other legislation which allows additional, secret snooping – with little or no public accountability - into the private lives, transactions and communications of New Zealanders. While falling mercifully short of the excesses of the United States Patriot Act, these various pieces of legislation result in significantly reduced privacy and civil liberties for all of us, but do little to reduce any actual terrorist threat.

Given the number of elected representatives and others who have been involved in the process of drafting, passing and implementing the legislation, the judges felt it would be unfair to honour any one person with this ultimate award. Our award therefore goes to all those jointly responsible.

Worst elected representative – for the elected representative who has most neglected or abused their responsibilities to protect privacy

Winner: Minister of Justice, Phil Goff

The judges' award in this category goes to the Minister of Justice, Phil Goff, for his part in fronting the counter-terrorism legislation. In his honour, following true Orwellian precedent, the office should perhaps be renamed Minister for Injustice.

A close runner-up, and worthy of mention, was Paul Swain, who, as Minister for Telecommunications, uncritically pushed through new surveillance powers.

Worst public agency or official – for a government agency or official that has most systematically invaded privacy.

Winner: Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB)

Still on the anti-terrorism theme, the most frequently nominated contender in this category was the GCSB for its surveillance work, notably targeting our Pacific neighbours. The judges recognise that those who work in the GCSB are effectively only doing what others have empowered them to do. However, the enormous, and publicly unsupervised, threat to privacy that the organisation represents means that it is the clear winner of this category.

Worst corporate organisation – for a corporation that has shown a blatant disregard of privacy.

Winner: Baycorp

One name stood a long way out in this category: Baycorp. This company, which is the guardian of most New Zealanders' credit records, has a history of failure to correct information, even where blatant mistakes are made, and charging what many see as an unreasonable amount for people to access their own credit records. Over the period these awards cover, it has also actively resisted improving its privacy protection standards, in that it has (drectly or through its affiliates) been working against the proposed Credit Reference Code of Practice under development by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

Long term menace – for a privacy invader with a long record of profound disregard for privacy.

Winner: Public Registers

A last-minute nomination in this category immediately attracted the judges' unanimous support. The award this year goes not to a person, but to public registers. Although many public registers fulfil a necessary function, their proliferation, the vast amount of information cross-checking among them provides about New Zealanders, and the fact that access to them is often unrestricted by reference to the purpose for their existence, mean that they indeed pose a long-term menace to privacy. Urgent attention is needed to amend the public register privacy principles in Part 7 of the Privacy Act, so that public registers are less able to be misused for privacy-intrusive purposes.

Boot in mouth No award under this category was made this year since there were no nominations covering the past 12 months.

Best privacy guardian – champions of privacy, those who have done exemplary work to protect and enhance this elusive right.

This award, for an important act of privacy protection, goes to Associate Professor Peter Wills of Auckland University. Peter Wills recognised the possible privacy implications of the PBRF (Performance Based Research Funding) exercise conducted by the Tertiary Education Commission. He insisted that his personal score must not be passed to the University, except as part of the aggregated data about his Department. This prevented the University from using his score in any way other than that intended by the PBRF exercise itself. The threat to use personal PBRF scores for promotion or bonus purposes - or as a reason to deny staff benefits that they might otherwise might have obtained - is something that has greatly concerned many university staff. This award recognises Associate Professor Wills' willingness to take a personal stand on a matter affecting his colleagues across the country.

Long term achievement, recognising long-term service to protection of privacy

Joint Winners: Bruce Slane, the former Privacy Commissioner; and Blair Stewart, the Assistant Privacy Commissioner.

Bruce Slane, the former Privacy Commissioner, and Blair Stewart, the Assistant Privacy Commissioner, formed a strong, cheerful and highly effective team over the first decade of the Privacy Act's life. Bruce's reputation as a Privacy Commissioner is without equal, as was so well represented in all the accolades he received from home and abroad upon his retirement last year. He served the interests and international reputation of New Zealand exceptionally well during his term of office.

But Blair has always, though more quietly, worked alongside Bruce. His encyclopaedic knowledge of privacy matters and his attention to detail have resulted in many small and large legislative changes to better protect privacy, and in the development of Codes of Practice, such as the Health Information Privacy Code, which are the envy of many other jurisdictions. Blair's role in the process and production of the first Review of the Privacy Act in 1998 has also been of huge importance. His contribution to privacy in New Zealand has been, quite simply, vast.

ENDS

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