WINZ: privacy breach 'major stuff up'

  • Breaking
  • 18/05/2013

There's been another government breach of privacy. A Work and Income employee has emailed the private details of 34 beneficiaries to another claimant by mistake.

Even WINZ bosses are calling this breach a "major stuff up".

It's the latest in a series of failures, including last year's security issue with the agency's public kiosk computers.

The story is a familiar one – yet another dossier of private information sent to the wrong person.

"Any breach is inappropriate and not what we want at all, but mistakes happen," says Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.

So how did this mistake happen? A Ministry of Social Development employee added the Gmail address of a client to a private group email intended for his colleagues. The document, then forwarded to 3 News, detailed the names, phone numbers and nationalities of 34 beneficiaries who were about to be kicked off the benefit.

The reasons for having payments suspended include clients earning too much, leaving the country, getting a job and, in one case, a claimant ended up in prison.

"Last year the Privacy Commissioner called it 'the year of the data breach'," says privacy lawyer Kathryn Dalziel. "We are seeing this year to be no exception. All government agencies and private sector agencies need to start taking privacy and data protection seriously."

Ms Dalzeil says the Government should look closely at last year's ACC privacy debacle.

"Government departments need to develop their privacy culture," she says. "ACC had a big review where that was recommended. All government agencies should take that onboard."

This isn't the first security lapse for WINZ. Last year the agency's public computers were shut down after it was discovered clients' private information could be downloaded.

"As soon as we had the kiosk breach of last year, the minister should have done a full review of Work and Income's processes and practices," says Labour MSD spokesperson Jacinda Ardern. "She didn't do that and we're seeing mistakes as a consequence."

The Government says it is taking action. New email software will be installed next month. 

"It would be on external emails," says Ms Bennett. "It's a software that they can put over it, which actually slows the process down. You have to click a button that you are sure you're sending it to the right place."

The man who sent 3 News the documents says he did so as he didn't want the issue to be swept under the carpet.

WINZ staff send around 50,000 emails every day, and the minister is calling this incident "human error". Opponents say when you're dealing with personal, private information, that's simply not good enough.

3 News

source: newshub archive