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Database suggested to limit cold calls

2008-07-05 08:00:00

The Privacy Commissioner has called for relief for people fed up with telemarketers' calls interrupting dinner time by recommending the Government set up a national "do not call" database.

Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff made the recommendation in a new report suggesting New Zealand follow the example of other countries such as Australia and the United States. She had raised the matter informally before but this was the first time it was included in formal recommendations to the Government.

"People are constantly raising this with me and there is widespread concern about the intrusion of cold-calling. Other countries have moved to address it and we can draw on their experience, so we are bringing it to the attention of the minister and the Law Commission by suggesting they look at it quite hard."

However, Marketing Association head Keith Norris said a government-run register was unnecessary.

"We have a pretty good system already and this would be just another way of expanding a government department and spending more of the taxpayers' money on something that is already well handled."

While there was no hard evidence about the level of telemarketing in New Zealand he disagreed that it had increased markedly. The association's register, which all its members had to use, had about 44,000 numbers on it and a further 500 were added each month.

Ms Shroff said while self-regulation by the industry was the best option, the association's register applied only to its own members. "There are a number of people who are not bound by that. The issue is whether that should be bought under some kind of government regulation."

National registers overseas were popular - more than 145 million people had signed up to the United States register since it began in 2003.

Australia and Canada introduced them in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

Mr Norris said the United States register blocked direct marketing but did not apply to charities or companies doing market research or political polling.

The Privacy Commissioners' report also recommended it be mandatory for organisations to notify people of any breaches of their private details if it would put them at risk of harm.

The recommendations were included in a report on the Privacy Act based on international and domestic changes in privacy matters since the last report four years ago. The Law Commission is reviewing privacy law and Ms Shroff hoped her recommendations would be taken into account.

The Government last week introduced an amendment bill on one matter Ms Shroff identified as a priority - ensuring personal data which entered or left New Zealand was protected under privacy laws. It also helped ensure breaches of privacy law in overseas countries could be enforced in New Zealand.

Ms Shroff said the change was important for the country's trading reputation and assured trade partners that data would be protected here.

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