Expulsion

Decision of Privacy Commissioner

The decision of the Privacy Commissioner on Alison's complaint that the National Spiritual Assembly had breached her privacy.


Office of the Privacy Commissioner

28 March 2002

Dear Mrs Marshall

PRIVACY ACT COMPLAINT : NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLY OF THE BAHA'IS OF NEW ZEALAND INC (OUR REF: 4728)

I refer to previous correspondence concerning your Privacy Act complaint against the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of New Zealand Inc ("the Assembly").

I have now had an opportunity to consider the file relating to your complaint and am in a position to advise you of the views I have formed regarding the matter.

BACKGROUND TO THE COMPLAINT

As I understand it on 28 March 2002 the Assembly sent you a letter stating that you could no longer be properly considered as meeting the requirements of the Baha'i community and that accordingly the Assembly had removed your name from its membership rolls. On that same day the Assembly sent a letter to the spiritual assemblies of Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill, Porirua, Southland and Timaru. That letter informed those spiritual assemblies that you had been removed from the Assembly's membership rolls. The letter stated that "efforts have been made to clear up [your] misunderstandings, but these have been unsuccessful, hence the supreme body's decision."

On 4 October 2000 you complained to my office stating that you had sought correction of the sentence in the letter but that the Assembly had refused your request for correction. You considered that the statement in question was incorrect as, in your view, efforts had not been made to clear up any misunderstandings. You state you were not officially or overtly contacted by any Baha'i institution about the concerns it had over your beliefs and were not counselled about them in any official way.

You consider therefore that as the Assembly had refused to correct the sentence in the letter it has caused an interference with your privacy.

THE ASSEMBLY'S RESPONSE

The Assembly confirms that your name was removed from the membership rolls of the Baha'i community in March 2000 and that a letter was sent to six local spiritual assemblies advising them of this.

The Assembly also confirms that you made a request for correction of personal information contained in the letter the Assembly sent to the six local assemblies. The Assembly states that its interpretation of the word "efforts" differs from your own interpretation. It is of the belief that it took a number of steps to clear up your misunderstandings and that these steps involved many different approaches by a number of people in a number of ways. It is therefore of the belief that the information about which you have complained is correct and that it is therefore not appropriate for it to correct its letter.

However, the Assembly wrote to you on 4 July 2000 stating that it was prepared to attach a statement of correction to the letter it sent to the six local assemblies in accordance with Principle 7(3) of the Privacy Act. The Assembly indicated that you could either form a new statement or it would be willing to attach your letter of 15 May 2000 as a statement of correction. The Assembly states you were unwilling to provide a statement of correction.

In summary, the Assembly considers that although it is not willing to correct the information in accordance with your request, it is willing to attach any statement of correction you may wish to provide and has invited you to provide one. It is therefore of the belief that it has not breached Principle 7 of the Privacy Act.

THE PRIVACY ACT

Your complaint appears to raise issues under Principle 7 of the Privacy Act. I enclose a copy of this principle for your information.

Principle 7 states that where an agency holds personal information the individual concerned shall be entitled to request correction of the information and to request that there be attached to the information a statement of the correction sought but not made. An agency receiving such requests must either correct the information or attach a statement of correction.

Principle 7(3) states that where an agency that holds personal information is not willing to correct that information in accordance with a request by the individual concerned, the agency, shall if requested by the individual concerned, take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to attach to the information, in such a manner that will always be read with the information, any statement provided by that individual of the corrections sought.

It appears from the Assembly's response that although it is unwilling to correct its letter by either deleting or amending the sentence at issue, it is willing to attach a statement of correction to the information and, further, is willing to have the statement of correction attached to all copies of the information, namely the letters it sent to six of the local assemblies.

In the Complaints Review Tribunal case of Macdonald v Healthcare Hawkes Bay and Morrison (unreported, Decision No. 35/2000, CRT 42/00) the Tribunal stated

There is no obligation on an agency to make corrections sought unless it is satisfied that after taking into account the purposes for which the information may lawfully be used that corrections are necessary to ensure the information is accurate.... The agency does have an obligation, however, to attach a statement of correction ... upon a request to do so.

... Information which has some subjective content will always be harder to correct than that which is neutral in tone or objectively able to be verified because subjective information is less open to objective analysis. What is true and accurate for one [individual] may well not be so for another. We think this is the reason why agencies have the ability pursuant to IPP 7 to choose whether to correct information or attach a statement of correction to it. A statement of correction enables more than one perspective of an incident or a conversation to be included with personal information held by the agency.

The Assembly considers that the information is correct as it believes that "efforts" were made to correct your misunderstandings and it has provided some details of what those "efforts" were to both you and this office. This information is subjective in content and it is difficult for me to objectively analyse. That is why Principle 7(3) provides you with the right to request a statement of correction be attached to the letter.

As the Assembly is willing to attach a statement of correction I am of the provisional opinion that it is not in breach of Principle 7 of the Privacy Act.

You may wish to consider formulating a statement of correction as provided for under Principle 7(3) and to forward that statement of correction to the Assembly so that it is able to attach it to the information about which you have complained in such a way that it will always be read with that information

CONCLUSION

I have carefully considered your complaint against the Assembly and for the reasons for which I have set out above. I am inclined to discontinue my investigation into your complaint pursuant to the discretion granted to me by section 71(2) of the Privacy Act.

I invite you to provide me with any further information which you consider I should have before me prior to reaching any final decision in this matter. If you wish to forward any further comments I would be grateful if you would indicate your intention to do within three weeks of the date of this letter. Should I not hear from you within that time I may proceed to exercise my discretion under section 71(2) of the Privacy Act and close your file.

Yours sincerely

B H Slane

Privacy Commissioner

Encl: Principle 7

Principle 7 provides:

  1. Where an agency holds personal information, the individual concerned shall be entitled -

    1. To request correction of the information; and

    2. To request that there be attached to the information a statement of the correction sought but not made.

  2. An agency that holds personal information shall, if so requested by the individual concerned or on its own initiative, take such steps (if any) to correct that information as are, in the circumstances, reasonable to ensure that, having regard to the purposes for which the information may lawfully be used, the information is accurate, up to date, complete, and not misleading.

  3. Where an agency that holds personal information is not willing to correct that information in accordance with a request by the individual concerned, the agency shall, if so requested by the individual concerned, take such steps (if any) as are reasonable in the circumstances to attach to the information, in such a manner that it will always be read with the information, any statement provided by that individual of the correction sought.

  4. Where the agency has taken steps under subclause (2) or subclause (3) of this principle, the agency shall, if reasonably practicable, inform each person or body or agency to whom the personal information has been disclosed of these steps.

  5. Where an agency receives a request made pursuant to subclause (1) of this principle, the agency shall inform the individual concerned of the action taken as a result of the request.