The Privacy Act 1993 gives you the right to access personal information about yourself and your children held by government departments. This is the Act which gives you the right to see any complaint made about you to the Ministry of Education (which subsequently prompts a review). Even if there is not a written complaint, you have a right to see the notes made by the MOE person who talked with the complainant because it is information about you and your children.
To request information held about you or your children, contact the government department directly and request the information. Requests can be made orally or in writing – often it’s best to put your request in writing (email or letter) so that you have evidence of your request. You do not need to refer to the Privacy Act. The department must respond to you as soon as is practicable, and at least within 20 working days of receiving your request. The department should not charge you for the information unless the Privacy Commissioner has given them permission to do so.
There are certain situations which allow a government department to decline to release information, eg. for reasons of national security, the maintenance of law and order, etc. The government department must cite the part of the Privacy Act which permits them to withhold the information. A common reason for a government department to decline a request for information is because it will impact on someone else’s right to privacy. This can be successfully challenged – if you know that similar information has been accessed in the past without issue, or if identifying information could be redacted, write again to the government department stating that you believe the part of the Act they have cited does not apply or is not sufficient to withhold information under the Privacy Act and give your reasons. If the department continues to withhold the information and you are not satisfied with the reasons, you can make a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner.
If you receive the information and believe that it is incorrect, you have the right to request that the government department correct it. If they refuse to correct it, you have the right to have a statement attached to the information that notes the corrections you have requested.
Government departments cannot give out information about you or your family to members of the public as it would be a breach of your privacy. If you feel your privacy has been breached by a government department you can make a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner.
At a glance …
- How a government department handles your personal information is covered under the Privacy Act
- You have the right to access your own personal information (and that of your children)
- You have the right to see any complaint made to MOE about your homeschooling
- You do not need to refer to the Privacy Act when requesting information about yourself
- There need to be specific circumstances for a government department to refuse to release information
- Refusal to release information can often be successfully challenged