US Patriot Act requires companies to pass on NZers’ info

Green MP Keith Locke says he will write to the Privacy Commissioner to ask her to investigate the actions of United States companies operating in New Zealand that are applying American, rather than our, laws and policies.

“The case reported today of Aucklander Mohammad Abbas, whose urgent money transfer to India was delayed for a month by Western Union because his name matched that of a suspect on an American watch list, is another example of George W. Bush’s ‘war on terror’ compromising our interests,” said Mr Locke, the Green Party’s Foreign Affairs Spokesperson.

“The experience of Mr Abbas, an innocent man, is a scandal. ‘Mohammad Abbas’ is a common name so such overzealous enforcement of the US watchlist is potentially affecting people in several countries. A similar name is on New Zealand’s list of international terrorist suspects, but if Western Union had any suspicions they should have gone directly to the New Zealand Police, not sent the information to the US.

“Mr Abbas’s problem with Western Union is a confirmed example of a US subsidiary sending personal information on New Zealanders back to the US, but it is unlikely to be the only time it has happened.

“Earlier this year I asked several written questions of our Ministers about whether the US Patriot Act was enabling private information on New Zealanders to pass to the American government.

“American computer company EDS has contracts with several New Zealand Government departments, under which they are specifically prohibited from transferring information overseas without a special exemption. But under the US Patriot Act, EDS is required to share requested New Zealand-sourced information with US Government agencies and is forbidden from telling our government that it is doing so.”

Mr Locke’s questions to Ministers revealed that the records of our Corrections, Justice, Immigration, Police and Social Development (including Work and Income) departments are all accessible by EDS (the company also has the contract for IRD but cannot access the data). None of the Ministers concerned had received any advice on the privacy implications for New Zealanders of the US Patriot Act.

“In Canada the possibility that the US Government is getting access to their citizen’s private information has triggered an investigation by the Privacy Commissioner in British Columbia. We should be following their example,” said Mr Locke.

“US subsidiaries such as Western Union and EDS should be told that if it wants to operate in NZ it should act according to our laws. And Western Union should not be allowed to implement a US security dragnet that is seriously inconveniencing innocent New Zealanders,” said Mr Locke.