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Safeguarding the identity and privacy of New Zealanders

New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs, Victoria University of Wellington, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, and Digital Identity NZ collaborated on the Identity Conference 2019.

Identity Conference 2019

The event explores the issues surrounding the collection and storage of personal identity information and what it means for the people of Aotearoa and beyond.

The theme of the conference, “Identity as taonga: now and in the future”, reportedly highlights identity as the core to who individuals are and must be treated with care.

Developing solutions to make people’s digital engagement and online transactions with government and corporations simpler and more trustworthy is a key theme of the Identity Conference.

It will focus on improving security so individuals and organisations have more control over how their personal data is shared and used.

This can help government and organisations respond more quickly and target services and initiatives more accurately.

Background of the initiative

The set of attributes that distinguishes individuals forms the basis for the sense of self and should not be passed on without consideration of the risks for relationships, finances and even reputation.

Advances in data collection, processing and analysis signal living in an increasingly connected world where data from multiple and smarter devices is shared more extensively and more rapidly than ever before.

However, recent high-profile data and terms of service breaches have raised concerns about what happens to personal data and how it can be protected.

People are often quite unaware of how much of their information is being collected on a day-to-day basis, who is looking at it, and what happens to it.

Even when people are aware that their data is being harvested and have some concerns about its privacy, they rarely make an effort to protect it and continue to hand it over voluntarily.

This can have serious implications.

The Problem

The Department of Internal Affairs estimates that more than 130,000 New Zealanders fall victim to identity theft annually, costing the economy up to NZ$ 209 million every year.

A range of offline and online methods of identity crime are used to steal people’s identity.

But, the most common is when someone hands over their personal details, sometimes freely or because they are deceived into providing them.

Digital Identity NZ’s recent survey found that 79% of New Zealanders are concerned about the protection of their identity and use of personal data, with 89% worried about their data being shared without their permission.

While 73% claimed to have changed their online behaviour due to privacy concerns, large numbers are still interacting with systems and organisations that collect personal information on an ongoing basis.

This so-called ‘privacy paradox’ highlights the dilemma of wanting to safeguard personal data, at the same time giving it away frequently and freely, with few protecting it actively.

Another quandary is while people want interactions with public agencies and government to be efficient and seamless, there is concern that the information provided may be lost, stolen or misused.

The ‘digital shift’ means that vast amounts of personal data is now collected by government at both national and local levels and its value for policy, decision-making and good government cannot be underestimated.

The costs for those who fall victim to identity crime can be serious. Horror stories of financial ruin and reputational damage abound.

A more insidious outcome is the undermining of public trust in online services and transactions, which, given the digital shift, is a worry.

If people are sceptical about the security of their personal data, they are less likely to engage online with the agencies and organisations that can benefit them.

The Conference aims to address all these.

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