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News Link • Surveillance

The not so secret lives of us

Marie Shroff, the Privacy Commissioner, doesn't want to reveal her age when I ask. She declines on the grounds that people might think of her differently if they know it - an interesting introduction for me to the wider issue. She tells me: "I've developed a very strong interest in the way information is handled . . . and the roles that independent statutory bodies play in acting as watchdogs." Privacy law today, she adds, is still about communication and information, "but today's communication system is an online world. And we need legal tools to deal with that". She talks about the welter of new technology - cloud computing, iris scanning, facial reconstruction scans and DNA developments. Then there's eGovernment, eCommerce - "your identity is going to be online from now on" - and smartphones that are internet-enabled but also give access to GPS location tracking technology. Yet at the same time that New Zealanders have been embracing such technology, their fears over privacy have steadily increased. Shroff says: "As the tide of technological advances has increased, people's awareness has risen and their concerns have started to rise, though New Zealanders are not quite as concerned as Europeans. There are two issues really: who has access to people's information and people being denied access to information about themselves." Governments and businesses have databases bursting with huge amounts of information. As long as they comply with certain rules, they are able to share it with each other and with other agencies, both nationally and abroad. And sometimes it's stored in cloud computing systems - remotely, and usually in a foreign country. And don't be fooled by the apparent intimacy of social networking websites. That information is collated somewhere too, and often passed to direct marketing companies.

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