Monday, March 20, 2006

Shred it

Between 1978 and 2003, massage parlour owners were legally required to record the name, address and date of birth of their employees, and police were entitled to view and copy these records whenever they wished. They did, and used the information to compile registers of known prostitutes. Now that prostitution has been legalised, the information is redundant (if indeed it was ever useful), and the police want to pass it on to Archives New Zealand. Katherine Rich disagrees, and instead is calling for the registers to be shredded. While I'm generally in favour of a maximal archiving of government information for future historical study, I'd have to agree. This is information that should never have been collected in the first place. As Rich points out, it is like keeping a register of women who had abortions. It is deeply invasive of personal privacy, its future availability can only hurt people, and so it should be destroyed.


I think that the data should be aggregated, so that individuals are unidentifiable, and then the aggregate should be archived.

Knowing the average age, length of employment, etc of the prostitutes could be historically useful.

Of course, it costs money to do the aggregation, so I doubt it'll happen.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/20/2006 12:47:00 PM

Well, I certainly wouldn't object to that - though I should point out that calculating the lngth of employment would require a large amount of time and data matching across 22 years of records.

It would be easy enough to extract the straight demographic age data, though.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/20/2006 02:51:00 PM

I don't think it should be destroyed. Apart from anything else the Archives Act (or whatever it is called) should be taken into account before making a decision.

However, it should not be made accessible either, for a long time if ever.

I suggest that it should be boxed up and stored with this year's Census data, and kept secure until the hundred years (or however long) the census data will remain unseen has elapsed. By that time anyone who will be affected by the knowledge of what they did for a living will be long deceased.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/20/2006 06:04:00 PM

idiot/savant: I should point out that calculating the lngth of employment would require a large amount of time and data matching across 22 years of records

Certainly, that is true, and that's not the only useful statistic that should be considered.

I'm not sure if Archives New Zealand has the resources or inclination to manipulate this data prior to archiving. So it might well preclude it occurring.

As Dave J suggests "time-locking" the data could be another option --- although I don't know whether you can necessarily trust the integrity of a future Archives New Zealand.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/20/2006 08:02:00 PM

Just shred it. It was acquired for a particular purpose and that purpose hgas past. no one - not the government or nosey historian or journalists - has a right to the information.

Just shred it.

Posted by Sanctuary : 3/21/2006 01:51:00 PM

Katherine Rich never fails to impress me.

Posted by Xavier : 3/21/2006 11:02:00 PM