'Private spying' inquiry broadened to every Government department

The Government has broadened its inquiry into private spying by Government departments after receiving concerning new information.

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes has widened it to cover all departments after serious questions were raised over the use of, or contact with, Thompson and Clark by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI).

"What I have seen raises serious questions about the nature of engagement between Thompson and Clark and State sector agencies," said Mr Hughes.

"As a result I have decided to widen the terms of reference to cover all State services agencies.

"I need assurance that the use of, or contact with, external security consultants by government agencies is consistent with the State Services Code of Conduct.

On 16 March, Mr Hughes appointed Doug Martin to investigate the circumstances, reasons and outcome of Southern Response Earthquake Services Limited’s use of Thompson & Clark Investigations to spy on earthquake victims.

On 27 March, Mr Hughes widened the inquiry terms of reference to include the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE's) relationship with Thompson and Clark.

Mr Hughes said he was concerned about what has surfaced in the inquiry to date and new information now available relating to other government agencies. He has therefore decided to broaden and deepen the inquiry.

The fresh material came to light in Official Information Act requests to MPI and the SIS.

"I have issued expanded terms of reference that allow Mr Martin to include all State services agencies in his investigation."

Mr Hughes has appointed Simon Mount QC to bolster the investigation team and work alongside Mr Martin, who will continue to lead the inquiry.

The inquiry is likely to take another few months to complete.

The investigation is using the Commissioner's functions and powers under the State Sector Act 1988. The Act grants extensive powers of inquiry to the State Services Commissioner or his delegate.

This includes the legal power to require the production of any records, files or other information, require government employees to answer questions and enter government premises.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards says anyone affected should get in touch.

"We await the outcomes of those inquiries with interest. In the meantime, if any individual thinks they might have been directly affected by an interference with their privacy relating to this issue, they should consider making a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner."