Chapter 6: Protecting privacy

Introduction

A request under the official information legislation may involve the release of information that has implications for a person’s privacy, for example where the official information is also personal information. The protection of privacy is a good reason to withhold information under the official information legislation,190 although in any particular case, public interest considerations can outweigh this in favour of making the information available.191

The OIA’s explicit recognition of the need for privacy protection is one of the legislative forerunners to the Privacy Act.192 The privacy withholding ground represents an early legislative expression of privacy protection which stands out as being fairly broad and undefined, when compared to other statutory and legal formulations that have now developed.

While any decision about release is to take account of the principle of availability, the decision must also be made in accordance with the purposes of the Act.193 Of all the withholding grounds, it is privacy that is explicitly acknowledged in the purpose section:194

(c) to protect official information to the extent consistent with the public interest and the preservation of personal privacy.

The purpose provision, along with the privacy withholding ground, reflects the public interest in protecting privacy. The divergent public interests in the release of official information on the one hand and the protection of privacy on the other hand are to be reconciled through the operation of the public interest test as discussed in chapter 9. In weighing the privacy interest, a public interest in disclosure must be particularly strong if it is to prevail.195

OIA, s 9(2)(a); LGOIMA, s 7(2)(a).

The public interest test is the subject of chapter 8.

For example, a natural person’s right to access personal information about themselves was first enacted in the OIA as a forerunner of privacy principle 6.

OIA, s 5; LGOIMA, s 5.

OIA, s 4; LGOIMA, s 4.

Graham Taylor and Paul Roth Access to Information (LexisNexis, Wellington, 2011) at 82–83.