Stats NZ, phone companies to track people's movements

Statistics Minister James Shaw is aware there will be perception issues around every step being recorded. - Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Stats NZ is partnering with cellphone companies to launch a new way of tracking people's movements every hour.

The population density programme will launch next month and Statistics Minister James Shaw said he was aware there would be perception issues around every step being recorded.

Mr Shaw said cellphone companies and credit companies already held that level of detail, but for the first time Stats NZ was able to act as a data broker to identify trends and patterns with the anonymised information.

He told MPs at a select committee today, there would be concerns about people being able to hack into the system and get hold of people's private details.

"It is very rigourous and we've had criticism in the past of people saying it's really difficult to get access to that information to be able to use it for research purposes - well that's because it's under lock and key,'' he told RNZ following the committee.

However, Mr Shaw said the security of the information would require increasing attention over time.

The programme has been assessed by the Privacy Commissioner and a data ethics panel is being set up to keep watch.

Mr Shaw said the Census already asked New Zealanders where they were on a particular night and the tracking just an extension of that using information that was already collected.

"That information actually already exists and what we're doing is aggregating it in a way that can then be used for example with things like traffic planning, but I understand there is a perception risk there,'' he told MPs.

Mr Shaw said there might come a point around 2030 when a traditional Census isn't needed, but data collection wasn't yet good enough.