NEW ZEALAND CLASSIC CAR PRICE ON The Privacy Act
Greg Price Why do we still have it?
We recently received an interesting letter from a reader concerning the difficulty he had experienced trying to retrieve the ownership history of a motor vehicle that he had just acquired, and one that had been continuously licensed since new, and still carried its original plates (see Readers’ Writes, NZ Classic Car July 2015). He thought (wrongly, as it turned out) that he would be able to request from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) a full ownership history, as he had paid the necessary fees up front. You can imagine his annoyance when all he got was pages noted ‘information not available’, with NZTA citing the Privacy Act. They wouldn’t even tell him who the current registered owner was, though it was him! The term ‘registered owner’ seems to have been replaced with ‘registered person’ despite each and every owner of a registered vehicle in New Zealand being assigned an ‘NZTA Owner ID’ number. NZTA goes to great lengths to tell us it no longer records ‘ownership’ of vehicles — rather it records the ‘registered person responsible for the vehicle.’ If that was true, why does NZTA maintain owner IDS?
Keep it simple
Since 1975 I have been keeping a worldwide register of MKI Zephyr convertibles and, wherever possible, I have obtained a full ownership history of each car. In the past, this was a simple exercise in New Zealand, achieved by first obtaining the name and address of the current owner (from Motor Registration Centre, then LTNZ, now NZTA) and then writing to each owner requesting a copy of the ‘Ownership Papers.’ In those days, it cost 50 cents for this information and a further two dollars for a full list of previous owners. The first problem for our correspondent was that, thanks to NZTA not bothering to computerize past hard-copy files, its records only go back to the ’90s when the system was first computerized. Anecdotally, those hard-copy records still exist, as the Archives Act prevents NZTA from destroying them. I understand that if someone wants to spend around $500, a ‘manual’ search of those boxes and boxes of records can be carried out, but without any guarantee of a result. I have previously suggested that the NZTA turn over those records to (for example) the Vintage Car Club of NZ (the actual Historical Vehicle Authority in NZ). However, I guess the damn Privacy Act would prevent this from happening, and it seems unlikely that NZTA would spend money to computerize those old records. The next thing that stuffed up our correspondent from accessing his vehicle’s history was the 2011 legislation change which resulted in the names and addresses of current and previous owners not being made available to requesters. One of the reasons for this change was that some organizations were requesting literally thousands of personal details on a daily basis for purely marketing reasons. These changes resulted in those same groups being able to ‘request’ the same bulk information, but in a way that you and I were less likely to notice. For example, how many of you know about the NZ Gazette, let alone actually read it on a regular basis? The NZ Gazette lists (among other things) the names of organizations and individuals which have requested access to the vehicle database. Once access has been granted, approval lasts for five years. While common sense would dictate that businesses such as debt collectors, parking building operators, tow truck companies and the like would be candidates, other groups have also gained access to the database — including financial service providers, motor vehicle traders and service stations, to name but three. An application for access can cost anywhere between $650 and $1200 — and that does not necessarily ensure access will be forthcoming.
Clearly my ability to continue with my MKI Register was severely restricted by these changes — particularly the ‘opting out’ facility. That’s actually a waste of time when you see just how many individuals can otherwise access your records. For example, a registered motor-vehicle trader has automatic access to the current owner’s details, including their contact details. For many years I have had an unlisted confidential telephone number for work-related reasons. However, any person with ‘authorized’ access to the motor-vehicle database can access my phone number, and in one case that I was aware of, has done so. However, we can be our own worst enemies when it comes to keeping our details private, which is why I question why we still need the Privacy Act as such.
What about our recent correspondent? He could always register as a Motor Vehicle Trader for around $450 per annum — that would give him limited access to the information he seeks, but only as far back as the NZTA’S computerized records go. Carjam, Checka and similar sites will at least give some history on the vehicle in terms of dates of ownership changes, warrants of fitness, kilometres covered etc, but the only way to conclusively prove past ownership of a vehicle is if someone holds the original ‘ownership’ papers.
I can also confirm that, even as we speak, our vehicle transactions are being monitored by the authorities to ensure that we do not sell more than six vehicles per year, and do not import more than three per year. As I said in my article at the time ( NZ Classic Car, November 2010), the 2011 amendment to the Land Transport Act, specifically Section 241, was supposed to significantly limit access to the information held on the NZTA database to authorised persons for specific purposes. ‘Authorised Purposes’ were supposedly those that were in the public interest to the extent that privacy concerns of individuals were outweighed, for example motor vehicle dealers wanting to do safety recalls and service campaigns, insurers after details of people who have been involved in accidents with their policy holders etc. This month’s homework is to check out back copies of the NZ Gazette (gazette.govt.nz) and be flabbergasted by just how many organizations, business, and individuals can access your vehicle’s details, and your own personal information — except, of course, our correspondent. I reckon they should publish a list of those who do not have access to your information — it’ll be a damn sight shorter!