Easy transparency

Transparency reporting simply means an organisation reporting on the number of times government agencies ask them to hand over customers personal information - and how many times that organisations approves or denies these requests. Transparency reporting is an important check and balance against government surveillance, but it is not widely done in New Zealand today.

Platform providers like ISPs should be doing transparency reporting to help New Zealanders understand how often government agencies are accessing their information. So we've built some tools to make it easier for organisations to do transparency reporting.

We recognise that it's not something that most New Zealand organisations do. In fact, TradeMe is the only New Zealand business we know of that does transparency reporting, does it well, and has done so for a number of years. We want to make it easier for New Zealand organisations to start doing transparency reporting. So that's why we've invested our time into this project.

What is easy transparency?

Easy transparency is a set of templates and resources designed to help New Zealand organisations begin transparency reporting. Version one includes:

  • template transparency policy [.docx] for your organisation to publish - the transparency policy explains your policy to release transparency reports annually, explains how government agencies can require information from you and sets out your policy on the typical circumstances in which you will voluntarily release personal information when requested by government agencies
  • template transparency report [.docx] for your organisation to use to report annually
  • supporting documentation [.docx] including FAQs and information about making decision to voluntarily release information
  • spreadsheet [.xlsx] for recording enquiries and generating graphs for your report.
  • All of these resources are also available in our Github repository. The report, policy and supporting documentation are available there in markdown

Why transparency reporting?

We think that New Zealanders have the right to know how often government departments are accessing their information. Without transparency reports we have no way of knowing whether we should be concerned about the number and type of government requests to hand over consumer information.

In our position paper, Towards a world without mass surveillance, we set out the things we want to do to help the Electronic Frontier Foundation's game plan to halt global mass surveillance. Encouraging transparency reporting is one of the things we want to do to help understand the scope of government surveillance. If we, as a society, have good visibility on how often government agencies access our information, we can better understand whether or not the government is engaging in mass surveillance. Transparency reporting allows us all to gauge whether or not the Privacy Act is being misused by government agencies, and what changes might be needed to prevent mass surveillance if it is being misused.

We are calling on organisations like ISPs, telecommunications providers, banks, and online service providers like Trade Me to publish annual transparency reports. Anyone who collects or holds a lot of information about New Zealanders should be making a commitment to release annual transparency reports.

Benefits for organisations that do transparency reporting

Transparency reporting can help organisations earn and keep the trust of consumers who might otherwise be hesitant to use services or purchase their products on privacy grounds.

It also helps organisations reflect on, and evaluate, internal processes. What are the right circumstances to voluntarily release information under the Privacy Act? How to organisations ensure that they actually make the right decisions to voluntarily release information when it is requested?

Why is transparency reporting useful for us all?

Government agencies work on our behalf. We vote in the Parliament, which gives government agencies powers and authorities to do their jobs. We think that it’s only fair that we, as the voters and taxpayers of New Zealand, know how often government agencies try to find out about us. Is it too much? Is the amount of information acceptable? Without transparency reporting we can’t know and we can’t have that discussion or make those judgements.