The case for a right to privacy

Sir Geoffrey Palmer makes the case for including a right to privacy in New Zealand’s constitution.

In A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, Dr Andrew Butler and I are proposing stronger protections for human rights.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 sets out New Zealanders’ basic civil and political rights. But it doesn’t override other laws, which means Parliament can choose to ignore it, and sometimes does. We are proposing to address that by making the Bill of Rights Act superior law, which Parliament can only override with a 75 percent majority.

We are also proposing to include some new rights. One of those is a right to privacy.


In 1990, the digital revolution was in its early stages, and privacy was not the everyday concern it has now become.

In the 27 years since the Bill of Rights Act came into law, new technologies have appeared creating new ways in which privacy can be invaded. The Government now holds vast amounts of electronic data about its citizens, and laws are needed to protect against abuse.

Internationally, there have been many court cases defining privacy and showing how it can and should be protected.

The time is right for the Bill of Rights Act to recognise a right to privacy.

In our draft constitution, Dr Butler and I propose the following provision:

92 Freedom of privacy

Everyone has the right not to be subject to arbitrary or unlawful interference with that person’s privacy, family, home or correspondence.

This is an important protection.

You can read more about our proposals in chapter 8 of A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand (available here).

What are your views?