Dame Marie Shroff, who oversaw great change in New Zealand privacy law through the advent of social media, is warning users to carefully consider what they post online.

The former privacy commissioner joins sporting stars Lisa Carrington and Sophie Pascoe as new dames companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2022 New Year Honours, for her services to the State and the community.

Shroff has contributed to many public entities over the years, including the Media Council, Consumer New Zealand, Equal Opportunities Trust and the New Zealand Electoral Commission Board among others.

As the Secretary of the Cabinet and Clerk of the Executive Council from 1987 to 2003, Shroff was highly regarded for guiding the constitutional transition to mixed member proportional representation and coalition government.

However, high up in her contributions to New Zealand came through her role as privacy commissioner from 2003 to 2014 – a period when advancements in technology posed enormous privacy concerns.

She played a key role in co-ordinating international privacy regulators to address such changes and she led negotiations for New Zealand privacy law to gain equivalence with European law.

Shroff was delighted by her damehood but emphasised the congratulation should extend to all public servants, who often work behind the scenes.

“I think it’s great to have this recognition, through the honour for me, of the work of the public service and Crown agencies which have often done so in the background,” she said.

Shroff said she relished to work in services which support confidence in the public system.

“[Those services] set standards, they deliver services and then they help people when things go wrong, so that’s the sort of job that I’ve always enjoyed.”

On her time as privacy commissioner, Shroff said it had been fascinating role to hold, given the exponential growth of social media.

She felt people had been slow to appreciate just how critical it would be to secure personal data as technology evolved.

“At first, many people thought it was a nuisance but as things went along I think, people realised it was worthwhile and it was important to make sure our personal data was protected.”

As a key figure in facilitating this mentality shift, Shroff’s advice to social media users has been consistent across almost two decades.

“My message then and my message now would still be – think hard before you post.”

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