The findings from State Services Commission’s Inquiry into the Use of External Security Consultants shows the need for stronger protections to safeguard human rights, especially privacy says Chief Legal Advisor Janet Anderson-Bidois.
“The right to privacy is a fundamental human right. It is unacceptable for citizens to be subject to wrongful and unreasonable surveillance and other covert activity that breaches this right,” says Anderson-Bidois.
The right to privacy is guaranteed under Article 12 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In 1978, New Zealand agreed to be legally bound by the ICCPR. Although the Privacy Act provides protection for some privacy related rights, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 does not include a general right to privacy.
“The steps that have been outlined by the State Services Commission are a step in the right direction but the findings of the Inquiry indicate that we need stronger protections to safeguard human rights.”
“The absence of a right to privacy from New Zealand’s Bill of Rights is a clear gap in our human rights framework. It should be included. Amending the Bill of Rights to include privacy would help reinforce its importance as a core human right that must be understood, and adhered to, by public officials and their agents.”
Anderson-Bidois says the findings from the Inquiry are particularly disturbing as some of these activities were directed at claimants against the state. These include victims who were abused while in state care and who were attempting to seek justice through the Court system and individuals affected by the Canterbury earthquakes.
“We don’t expect to see behaviour like this in an open and democratic society that values fundamental freedoms and human rights. It’s important that those who work in the state sector understand their legal obligations and adhere to them when carrying out their work.”
The Human Rights Commission reiterated the need for the right to privacy, and other core human rights to be added to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act during meetings in Geneva this month in the lead up to New Zealand’s Universal Periodic Review before the Human Rights Council early next year. The Universal Periodic Review is a formal assessment of New Zealand’s human rights record by United Nations member states which happens every five years.
In her statement Acting Chief Commissioner, Paula Tesoriero, recommended that the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 be amended to incorporate all rights in the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, including the right to privacy and other human rights included in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, which are also absent from New Zealand’s Bill of Rights.