A beneficiary rights activist has cancelled her benefit to draw attention to the vulnerability of beneficiaries’ private information following the revelation that thousands of private files were accessible through public internet kiosks at WINZ offices.
Olive McRae, a domestic purposes beneficiary and spokesperson for Welfare Justice Dunedin, said she believed the incident was the largest breach of privacy of a government organisation in New Zealand history.
“I have been raising concerns about the systemic institutional disregard for privacy within MSD for the past two years,” Ms McRae said. “This large scale privacy breach is shocking but not surprising. What’s worse is that these issues have been raised time and time again by clients and advocacy groups across the country.”
“In 2009 the Minister accessed client’s personal information and leaked it to the media for political point scoring. The Human Rights Commission and the Privacy Commission raised concerns and ruled that her actions constituted a breach of privacy.”
“The Minister refused to accept their findings, and threatened to do it again. Earlier this year we had ten WINZ staff fired for accessing client’s private information. And now we find that the entire IT infrastructure is in jeopardy.”
“Although the Ministry of Social Development had advised they would investigate the kiosk privacy issue they had no plans to deal with the broader issue of privacy in WINZ” she said. “The MSD refused to accept there was any issue with privacy of client’s files.”
“I went to WINZ on seeking some assurances about my privacy, and requested my information be taken off the database and stored in hard copy until I could have an assurance from an independent auditor that my information was protected. I was assured the IT specialists were working until late at night trying to action my request. However I later found out that’s not the case.”
“My information isn’t secure, so I see no option but to forfeit my benefit until they address my concern. I hope that my landlord won’t kick me out too fast, and the electricity company doesn’t cut the power right away”
Olive McRae’s letter to WINZ
To Work & Income Dunedin Central Office,
I am formally requesting all documentation on my file that is held within your computer system to be immediately removed from your data base. I formally request and give consent for all such information to be manually copied and held in hard copy only. Given the systemic privacy issues that MSD continue to experience, I no longer authorise any of the documentation that relates to me or my children to be held on your insecure system.
I have a right to protected privacy, which is something MSD cannot assure any clients of at this time. I expect this done immediately and without delay as my privacy and the privacy and safety of my children may currently be at risk.I will wait for this to be done in the waiting area, and I would like a statement from a manager that this task has been completed for verification purposes.
Donations to support Olive and her children during her time without other income can be deposited into the account 38 9010 0754683 00