Commissioner urges public debate

NSW Privacy Commissioner, Dr Elizabeth Coombs has stressed the importance of public debate around privacy issues and encouraged NSW public sector agencies to ensure they maintain good privacy practices.

The Commissioner was interviewed as part of a Four Corners program, screened on 9 September, which raised the issue of NSW Police collecting and storing photographs of number plates.

The Commissioner has met with the NSW Police Commissioner and requested briefings on these activities, detailing what information is collected and stored, how it is used, who has access to it and for what purposes, including the arrangements around the disposal of this information.

Dr Coombs said number plate identification numbers were not considered personal information under NSW privacy law, because they did not in themselves identify an individual, however she acknowledged that many people in the community would be concerned.

She said that when this information was linked to personal information held by organisations, individuals could be identified, hence her questions to NSW Police around usage and other matters.

Dr Coombs said NSW Police had responded with briefings and further information was being provided.

She said NSW Police did have exemptions under NSW privacy legislation for law enforcement purposes.

Dr Coombs said that as Privacy Commissioner, she expected agencies with exemptions under NSW privacy law to maintain good privacy practices and manage personal information according to the requirements of the legislation. The Commissioner encouraged all agencies to keep the public informed about the collection and use of personal information, including those with exemptions such as NSW Police.