Over the past six months, both here and abroad, there have been too many cases of privacy breaches, and they’re beginning to reach terminal velocity.
Aside from all the politicking and cat calls of “don’t know, don’t remember”, we’re facing a government increasingly involved in direct interventions, and the shredding of our rights to privacy.
News broke earlier this week that members of the public could enter any Work and Income office in the country, walk up to a computer kiosk designed to help jobhunters, and access sensitive and private data from CYFS, the Families Commission, and “scanned invoices” from the Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Authority.
But this is not the first time Minister for Social Development Paula Bennett has been at the centre of, let alone responsible for, a major breach of privacy.
Regardless of whatever opinion one may hold of the Natasha Fuller debacle, her example is no longer a one-off, but what seems to be the first in a series of mishaps and mistakes that cut to the very core of our rights as New Zealand citizens.
Bennett released Fuller’s details to media in retaliation against a group of beneficiaries lobbying the MSD in order that they could be trained to return to work. In a stunning display of arrogance, the minister later insisted she might be willing to do it again.
More recently, there are suspicions floating around that the whistleblower in the WINZ case –Ira Bailey – had his name leaked to the Dominion Post by Paula Bennett’s office.
As Kyle Macdonald points out most presciently: “If WINZ were to implement such a process [to ensure privacy] it would prohibit the Minister from accessing the information she needs to attack and publicly shame her critics in the future.”
Earlier this week, it was announced that Bennett’s White Paper would target those most in need of intervention in our society - children in abusive households. At the centre of the proposals was a tracking system to be called the ‘Vulnerable Kids Information System’, a “web-based system that would enable child-focused workers to access and contribute to a national database on vulnerable children.”
Paula Bennett is going to be in charge of a new system wherein vulnerable children will be tracked; how can we be absolutely sure that this system is going to be safe if the minister is prepared to breach the privacy of those she is responsible for again and again without regard for consequences?
Writ large: can the Government be trusted to enforce our right to privacy?
One hopes that, following Deloitte’s report in two weeks time, and the independent inquiry, not only will the MSD system be redesigned effectively to combat these gaping holes, but a firmer hand placed on the private contractors - in this case KPMG - to ensure that forgotten loopholes are not abused.
One imagines and hopes that lessons will be learned: there have been too many incidents and hiccups during the course of this National government that points towards a culture of disregard for individual rights.
Sadly, while these computer kiosks have been shut down, the ability for thousands of the unemployed to search for jobs – people who may not have their own access to a computer – has been stonewalled.
So this is not only a privacy issue, but an economic issue, in a time when emphasis from all sides is being placed on bringing the unemployment rate down.Looking at the larger picture, there is nothing more important in our modern society than individual freedoms, privacy (and property) being the most fundamental of these - something that we ought to fight for.
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