A Column by Consumer Affairs Writer, Jordan Kelly.
Do You Know Your Privacy Obligations?
(Many Don’t)
From cleaners to caterers, plumbers to plasterers, respite carers to real estate agents – and every other type of service provider … Did you know ANYONE you pay to conduct
a service that requires them to enter your home and/or your office, is legally bound by the provisions of the New Zealand Privacy Act 1993?
In today’s column, I’ll focus on the area in which the greatest lack of knowledge about privacy law lies: Those who enter into our homes. Our “inner sanctums”. (Which, for those of us who work from a home office, represents our combined personal/professional environments.)
The lack of knowledge, I have observed, often lies on both sides of the equation: Many service providers don’t know their legal obligations concerning the privacy of their clients and customers. And, certainly, most householders have no specific idea of their rights. Only a vague notion of “moral obligation” and decency. Which isn’t enough.
The New Zealand Privacy Act 1993 refers to “agencies” and covers the “collection, use, disclosure, storage and passing on
of access to personal information”.
If You’re Being Paid to Go To Someone’s Home,
You’re Bound by Privacy Law
Within this simple descriptor are two critical terms that EVERY service provider, and their customer, needs to understand.
‘Agency’: Every person or organisation that holds personal information is an “agency”. So, the Privacy Act covers operations of all sizes, including one-man and one-woman bands. Which,
of course, includes the likes of trades people, real estate agents, cleaners and carers – and everything in between, if they’ve been
to your home or your office.
The most relevant principle applying here is the Act’s Principle 11 i.e. the disclosure principle. A tradesperson or other service provider working in a person’s home or office will see and hear that which you would reasonably expect them to see and hear in someone’s personal and/or private environment. In other words, they will be inadvertently collecting “private information” about that home’s or office’s inhabitants.
You’re Responsible for Anyone Entering
A Customer’s Home On Your Watch
It’s important for smaller service providers to understand that they are beholden to the same privacy laws as the largest corporation. No difference. And, in the same way as the management of larger companies sending their staff into people’s homes and offices share legal culpability for any breach of the Privacy Act by those staff members, so too a one-person operation (for example, a cleaner or handyperson, subcontracting to another individual and thus allowing others access to their customers’ properties) shares legal responsibility for those parties’ adherence to the Act.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s investigators apply the same privacy principles to each complaint, regardless of the size of the organisation. If a complaint can’t be resolved by the commissioner – for example, if a person has been caused harm by the breach – a case can end up being referred to the Director of Human Rights Proceedings. A complainant can also take his or her case direct to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.
See you next year with a new series of columns. I trust my first few have proven informative.

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