Coronavirus: Outrage after man rants at Animates employee that COVID-19 contract tracing 'breaches' his privacy

The employee was confronted by a man who claimed the register was breaching his "Privacy Act".
The employee was confronted by a man who claimed the register was breaching his "Privacy Act". Photo credit: Twitter / Screengrabs

A man has faced backlash on social media after he filmed himself ranting at an Animates employee about contact tracing measures "breaching" his privacy, even going as far to refer to the Nuremberg Code following World War II.

In the video, the man approaches an Animates employee overseeing the customer registration required of businesses under alert level 2. Customers are asked to provide their name and contact information in case a future case is linked back to the business, allowing health officials to quickly trace possible contacts of the infected person.

"So you're not going to allow me to shop in this place unless I give you my name and details, is that correct?" the man says in the footage, which was later shared to a YouTube channel.

The employee calmly explains to the man why the contact tracing measures are in place, to which he repeats: "You're refusing my ability to come in here and purchase something unless I give my personal details?"

The woman reiterates the measures are in place to ensure the safety of the staff and customers. She recommends the man to shop online if he is unwilling to provide his information, as without registering he is unable to enter the premises.

"You realise you're breaching my Privacy Act [sic]?" he claims. "You're in breach of my privacy, do you understand?"

The woman attempts to reason with him, but the man continues: "How are you protecting me by breaching my privacy?"

"It's not my choice. I'm following what my company has told me and what they've been told by the Government."

The man then asks the employee if she has heard of the Nuremberg Code, a set of 10 research ethics' principles for human experimentation created following the Nuremberg trials at the end of World War II. For example, the first point of the code is that "voluntary consent of the human subject" is "absolutely essential".  

"The Nuremberg Code is the trials Hitler did after the War, when he put all his minions through the courts there, and they said 'just doing my job' is not an excuse [sic]," the man ranted.

Aotearoa Science director Damian Christie shared the clip to his Twitter on Thursday, captioning the footage: "Anyone know what Animates store that dickhead went on a rant at? I might drop in some chocolates or something next time I'm there. Fancy comparing a poor woman asking for contact tracing details to a Nazi officer following orders. Buy your fish food somewhere else you sad loser.

"I'm not going to link to his YouTube (but let me tell you it's full of people going off at him)."

The altercation, which went on for another three minutes, is believed to have taken place at the Nelson Animates branch. Viewers have praised the woman's calm and collected response, with TV1 presenter Hilary Barry saying the employee "deserves a medal".

"[There is a] strong correlation between people who cite the Privacy Act in interactions with customer services, and people who don't understand the Privacy Act," another commented. 

Newshub contacted the Privacy Commission for their response to the incident. The spokesperson confirmed the incident is not technically a Privacy Act issue.

"The Act differentiates between the actions of individuals and the actions of agencies (businesses, Government departments, clubs etc). So when someone is acting in their personal or domestic capacity, it doesn't usually come within the ambit of the Act," the spokesperson said.

However, the spokesperson noted that the video could be considered a breach of the Harmful Digital Communications Act, a legislation which protects victims of cyberbullying by allowing offensive content to be reported.

"I think we can probably agree that posting a video of bullying an employee who is doing her job without her consent could meet this threshold," he said.

The spokesperson also confirmed that under the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Alert Level 2) Order 2020 passed last week, businesses are legally allowed to refuse customers who do not provide their contact details in line with contact tracing protocol. 

"Under the [legislation], breaches of the requirement to keep a contact tracing register is an infringement offence. If a business is required to keep a customer record for contact tracing, it can refuse access to customers who are not willing to provide their contact details," he said.

"Businesses that are exempt from this requirement, such as most retail shops and takeaway outlets, can refuse access to a customer if they fail to comply with other requirements such as physical distancing."

The Government launched its New Zealand COVID Tracing app on Wednesday, which allows Kiwis to voluntarily allow health officials access to their location history if contact tracing is required.  

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