'Privacy, public safety not mutually exclusive' – Privacy Commissioner

  • 03/10/2015
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards

Privacy and public safety are not mutually exclusive and systems can be made to allow government agencies to share information, the Privacy Commissioner says.

The comments from John Edwards follow the damning findings of a report into how convicted murderer and child molester Phillip John Smith was able to flee New Zealand while on temporary release from jail.

Smith flew to South America in November last year, sparking an international manhunt.

The report, released on Thursday, detailed shortcomings across government agencies.

The Department of Internal Affairs, which issues passports, had no system in place to alert it Smith's passport application - which he made under his birth name Traynor - came from a serving prisoner.

Once Smith got to the airport, there was also nothing in place to alert Customs.

Mr Edwards says public safety and privacy are not mutually exclusive.

"We want both and we can have both," Mr Edwards said.

"The notion of this being a simplistic choice between safety for the public and privacy is not a useful means of framing the debate."

The report highlights department failings, which were not because of an overheated concern with privacy, he said.

It found the criminal justice sector had limited workings with each other.

Mr Edwards was willing to work with the Ministry of Justice and other government agencies on sharing information.

Justice Minister Amy Adams said New Zealand has become fixated on not sharing information.

"There should be a system under which law enforcement agencies, in particular, can have reasonably open access to the sort of information they need to hold offenders to account," Ms Adams said.

Some law changes are needed, she said.

Smith was jailed in 1996 for murdering the father of a 12-year-old Wellington boy he had been molesting, while on bail on the child molestation charges.