Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The Data and Statistics Bill and the OIA

The government introduced a new Data and Statistics Bill today to modernise and replace the 45-year old Statistics Act. Part of the Bill re-enacts the existing confidentiality regime (with one exception), which while a secrecy clause isn't an especially controversial one. Another part is aimed at removing "outdated" (inconvenient) limits on the use of data, which seems to be all about freeing the IDI to extract "value" from correlating people's personal information. One of the clauses here allows Statistics to pass on personal information collected from one agency to another agency, which raises serious concerns about consent-laundering and information being used for purposes other than those consented to by the individuals who provided it (which may in turn result in increased reluctance to provide information at all where it can be avoided). But the clause I'm most concerned about is that it makes a direct amendment to the Official Information Act, to exclude from the definition of "official information"

information provided to the Government Statistician solely for research by or on behalf of an individual or [non-public-sector] organisation
What's this clause for? The explanatory note doesn't say. What information is it intended to protect? That's not clear either. It may be intended to protect census information, or information provided by other agencies for research purposes, and there's obviously a case to be made there given the sensitivity of such information. But Statistics doesn't make that case, or offer any explanation of what this is intended to do, or why the existing confidentiality regime (which currently protects things like census data from disclosure under the OIA) is considered insufficient. And that's simply not good enough. The OIA is constitutional legislation. Amending it in a substantive manner - and excluding information from its reach is certainly substantive - or otherwise limiting or over-riding it deserves to be treated as more than an afterthought.