The Artful Dodgers’ Almanack (aka the New Zealand Aircraft Register)

20 March 2013 / by Brian Mackie / Governance, Privacy, Security

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of an aeroplane must have a small fortune, and a house well worth burgling.

This erroneous statement makes two assumptions:

♦ That thieves can read and

♦ That thieves are stupid enough to think aircraft owners must be wealthy.

The CAA Aircraft Register puts owners at needless risk

The CAA Aircraft Register puts owners at needless risk

Nevertheless, the CAA has provided our nation’s kleptos with a ready-made shopping list of names and addresses, in the form of the Aircraft Register.

The hazards of the CAA’s register became clear after voices were raised against the authority allowing the use of it to a private company administering landing fees for client aerodromes.

The database was taken down when the Privacy Commissioner took an interest. But then it reappeared, and along with that action came a letter to owners from the CAA. It didn’t mention the kerfuffle over Greasr, but said: “The CAA is committed to adopting best practice in managing personal information it holds, in accordance with the Privacy Act 1993. Accordingly, individuals whose name and address are shown on the online register may now choose to have this personal information withheld.”

Clever wording, but slightly disingenuous because, under the law, those individuals have always had that right. Perhaps the CAA didn’t realise this until the Privacy Commissioner came knocking.

On February 23, we wrote to the CAA: “Private owners of aircraft – under your current regime – are publicly identifiable, as are their home addresses. Any half-witted thief in possession of an internet connection can easily identify aircraft owners and might target their addresses for burglary.”

Sue Holliday, Legal Administrator, replied on February 28:

“Section 74(3) of the Civil Aviation Act 1990 requires the CAA to make aircraft registry information available for inspection by the public free of charge, in accordance with the provisions of the Official Information Act 1982. Anyone meeting the eligibility criteria in section 12 of the Official Information Act may request access to personal information that the CAA holds on a person. The Official Information Act obliges the CAA to make the information available unless there is a good reason for withholding it. The Official Information Act requires us to balance a person’s privacy interests against many other considerations. Privacy interests may, therefore, provide good reason to withhold contact information in some instances.”

And in a letter to Des Lines on February 18, the CAA’s Chief Legal Counsel John Sneyd said:

“As we are bound by the Official Information Act, we are not able to ask for individuals’ permission to release their information. It is our obligation to assess each request and decide whether it is appropriate to release the requested information, that is, whether the public interest in releasing the information outweighs the privacy interests at stake.

“We are now confident that the operation of the aircraft register meets the requirements of the Privacy Act and the Official Information Act and comprises a good balance between owners’ privacy and the interests of organisations who need contact information for legitimate purposes.”

The problem here, of course, is that you don’t need to make a request. Anyone can simply access the register and grab personal details, without asking permission.

We have provided a good reason for withholding that information from all but legitimate organisations as a matter of policy. It’s the same reason why you and I cannot track down the owner of a vehicle. The New Zealand vehicle register used to be public, but that was changed by legislation a couple of years ago.

“For obvious reasons”, said Debbie of the New Zealand Transport Agency, when we called.

And it’s the same reason why the New Zealand Police will not allow you to find out who has a gun licence (and probably owns weaponry that might be useful to the criminal fraternity).

Where the law is skewed is in requiring aircraft owners to opt out of having their names and addresses on public view, rather than opting in.

So unless you’re vigilant, all your details will be up there on the Web, just waiting for a thief to build a database of places to raid.

We think that the law in this respect should be changed – and if it isn’t, the CAA should go one better than the law and show greater responsibility by asking its clients to opt in, or keep their details confidential by default.

Not only that: We’ve suggested to CAA that it includes an area on the ownership form where people can make a clear and conscious choice.

♦ To have your personal details removed from the register, email privacy [at] caa [dot] govt [dot] nz