Thursday, February 08, 2007

No duty to disclose

The Dominion-Post is trying to beat up a story about Microsoft demanding a warrant before turning over customer information to the police as them impeding a police investigation. It's nothing of the sort. Instead, they are not being evil for once, and showing a proper regard for their customer's privacy and human rights.

Not that the Dom-Post understands that. Here's their take on the privacy obligations of large companies:

The Privacy Act compels private and public organisations to divulge information to allow the law to be upheld.

(Emphasis added).

No, it doesn't. Section 11 (e) (i) allows agencies to disclose information if it is necessary for the "prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution, and punishment of offences" - but it certainly doesn't compel them to. And they know this - they quote privacy lawyer Hayden Wilson saying it right there in the bottom of the article. But I guess misrepresenting the law just makes for a better "angle".

As for the question of the balance between privacy and police work itself, the reason we have a system of warrants in the first place is because of the tendency of the police to go fishing and to abuse people's rights if not subject to proper safeguards. A warrant basically means that they've been able to convince someone else that a search or seizure (of goods or in this case information) is necessary, rather than just themselves. It's a vital safeguard, and one I would rather not see undermined. As a customer, I am more interested in knowing which companies do not demand a warrant before turning over my information - so I can take my business elsewhere.