Ministers using private email accounts

The issue of Ministers using private email accounts while doing their jobs was raised in Parliament yesterday, when Minister of Broadcasting Clare Curran struggled answering questions from National’s Melissa Lee – see Curran struggling with confidence and memory.

Melissa Lee: Does she use a personal email account or accounts to conduct any official business?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: From time to time, I have used my Gmail account. When using it, I adhere to my obligations as a Minister.

Melissa Lee: What Government business has she conducted via her Gmail account?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: To the best of my recollection, I haven’t used my—I’ve answered Official Information Act (OIA) responses and personal and parliamentary questions correctly, and, to the best of my recollection, you know, that’s what I’ve done.

Without being prompted on the Official Information Act Curran must have recognised it could come up.

Avoiding having to provide communications through OIA requests has previously been said to be a reason why a Minister might use a private email account. It is a serious issue if Ministers use private emails to deliberately avoid their OIA obligations.

The Speaker Trevor Mallard then made this comment:

SPEAKER: And I’m going to rule that the member, between the primary and the supplementary answer, certainly answered that to my satisfaction. I mean, I think all of us know that there’s no restriction on members or Ministers using Gmail accounts. I think all of us know that a large amount of the foreign affairs business of the previous Government was carried out by Gmail.

That’s alarming. Is there really no restriction on Ministers using private email accounts when doing their jobs?

This came up as far back as 2012 when Activists hacked McCully’s emails

Labour says revelations Foreign Affairs Minister McCully’s email account was hacked into is a wake-up call and raises serious questions about what was sent to the private address.

The Telecom Xtra account was broken into by international hackers’ collective Anonymous, potentially revealing sensitive Cabinet information and cable traffic from foreign posts.

McCully had asked that official emails be forwarded to that account while he was overseas in April last year.

Prime Minister John Key said he was aware of the breach and warned other ministers to be more careful, particularly about passwords.

Key didn’t seem to have a problem with McCully using a private account, just that he may have had an insecure password.

Interestingly:

Labour’s information technology spokeswoman Clare Curran said she was “bemused” to learn the minister was having emails forwarded to a private accounts.

“There are questions to be answered.”

If it was easier for the minister to access a private account when he was overseas, that was an issue that needed to be addressed by Parliament’s information technology department.

But it was concerning if there was another reason, she said.

“What sort of correspondence would be going on between a minister and officials through a private account that wasn’t subject to the Official Information Act?”

From time to time the Parliamentary email system was unable to be accessed, Curran said.

“(But) given he holds a ministerial position, is it sensible to be using another email account which is so obviously that you’re a minister?”

She was aware six years ago of the potential to use “a private account that wasn’t subject to the Official Information Act”, but on other matters, like having private meetings, Curran’s memory has been a bit suspect so maybe she forgot this by the time she became Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media, Minister for Government Digital Services and Associate Minister of State Services (Open Government) – she lost the Digital Services and Open Government portfolios two weeks ago due to her indiscretions.

I’d be surprised if there are not clear guidelines if not rules by now on the use of email accounts by Ministers.

Security is an obvious issue, especially after McCully had his private email account hacked.

And security and transparency of email accounts has received international attention when Hillary Clinton’s emails were hacked and leaked to (successfully) try to derail her presidential campaign.

It pales in comparison to the email controversy surrounding former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her 2016 presidential run against US President Donald Trump, but has raised similar questions over security and transparency of information.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/106851077/embattled-minister-clare-curran-struggles-to-explain-using-personal-email-for-government-business

After that major security breach surely the new Zealand Parliament has ensured the our Ministers have secure email accounts to conduct their business.

And our Official Information Act was obviously on Curran’s mind yesterday. She referred to it indirectly and directly four times:

Hon CLARE CURRAN: From time to time, I have used my Gmail account. When using it, I adhere to my obligations as a Minister.

Hon CLARE CURRAN: To the best of my recollection, I haven’t used my—I’ve answered Official Information Act (OIA) responses and personal and parliamentary questions correctly…

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I worked with my office to ensure that I am responding appropriately to OIA requests and parliamentary questions.

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I have reviewed my processes with my office. I reassure that member that I’ve released information in accordance with the OIA.

And her final answer:

Hon CLARE CURRAN: As I’ve said, I have reviewed processes in my office, including with the former Government digital services.

I’m not sure what she means by “the former Government digital services”, but whoever runs email and communications systems for Ministers (and MPs), and whoever sets rules for communications and information storage for Ministers, surely must have secure systems and clear rules on use of email accounts.

I don’t know what official systems Ministers and MPs use for emailing. This from 2016 in Parliamentary Service defends blocking email between MP and Fairfax journalist:

Parliamentary Service told Hipkins the email he tried to forward was picked up by the secure system because he “sent it to a domain that does not use SEEMail” – in this case, Fairfax.

SEEMail is the agency used by Parliamentary Service for MPs and staff emails.

“SEEMail is an all of government secure messaging system that we subscribe to. SEEMail classified messages can only be sent to-from approved government departments and agencies,” Parliamentary Service wrote.

Their public email addresses must be in a different system too this.

They can’t just leave it to Ministers to do as they see fit.

37 Comments

  1. robertguyton

     /  September 6, 2018

    As I said, she’s done; It’s the incoherence that sunk her, not the gmail use.

    “Tova O’Brien’s report on the Curran issue just now to Duncan Garner & viewers covered all the essentials. The Speaker clarified yesterday that usage of gmail doesn’t break the rules of parliament.

    The minister’s response to Lee on that usage was incoherent: coherent verbal responses in parliament are the basic requirement of ministerial performance. The PM’s latest stance is that she still has confidence in the minister but there’s a good chance that it will evaporate today due to yesterday’s performance! Intent to replace her is likely, even if action is postponed.”
    Dennis @TS

    • The incoherence was an obvious sign she is struggling, but she is just one MP (and not the only one struggling).

      But to me ultimately the bigger issue is the use of private email accounts by Ministers in particular.

      • Gezza

         /  September 6, 2018

        It’s a bloody shambolic system. A Minister in China operating random email accounts like this would probably be accused of collusion with foreign agents & sent to a hard labour camp for 13 years. In North Korea they’d be shot. If they hadn’t already been shot.

        • Blazer

           /  September 6, 2018

          National and their supporters who have an absolute ‘commie complex’ seem unconcerned about this individual,a current M.P…
          https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11934852

          • High Flying Duck

             /  September 6, 2018

            BREAKING NEWS!…From 2017.
            It was all investigated and cleared, unless our security agencies & 5 eyes are all muppets. Perhaps they need to get some Blazer advice?

            • Blazer

               /  September 6, 2018

              falsifying visa/PR documents on the basis ‘I was told to”(by anon sources)does not pass ANY serious test ,by ANY reasonable person.

            • Gezza

               /  September 6, 2018

              You forget our Deep State operatives don’t let their political masters in on what they’re up to & who they’re tracking. Possibly.

          • Gezza

             /  September 6, 2018

            Outrageous. Bet he’s on a watch list.

  2. robertguyton

     /  September 6, 2018

    Clare Curran is “just one MP”?!?
    Crikey! Here was me thinking she was several!

    Yes, Pete, the use of private email accounts, such as the one regularly used by John Key to chatty-chat with Cameron Slater in the early hours of the morning, is the “bigger issue”>

    • Gezza

       /  September 6, 2018

      Exactly. Another one who should’ve got 13 years hard labour for it. Instead his cronies gave him a bloody knighthood, & the foreign government he colluded with over The Ditch gave him some worthless tin medal for it! 😠

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  September 6, 2018

        If it was just private emails and texts, I see nothing wrong. I would guess that CS made a lot out of a little and these exchanges were quite ordinary.

  3. Strong For Life

     /  September 6, 2018

    Sack her!

  4. Patzcuaro

     /  September 6, 2018
    • robertguyton

       /  September 6, 2018

      Brilliant photo!

    • Gezza

       /  September 6, 2018

      That interpreter is no Dolly Parton.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  September 6, 2018

        Nor are you.

        • Gezza

           /  September 6, 2018

          I should hope not.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  September 6, 2018

            Sez you.

            • Gezza

               /  September 6, 2018

              Actually Dolly is a walking advertisement for NOT getting boob jobs. She’s paid for her stupidity there with health probs plus. Silly tart. There have been two recent current affairs doc segments on all the serious health issues that unnecessary boob enhancement surgeries have caused young women. Stupid yank sheilas went in for fake boobs in a big way. Sad really. Fake boobs often look awful.

      • High Flying Duck

         /  September 6, 2018

        Maybe she’s just a bit deflated by what she’s having to sign?

  5. David

     /  September 6, 2018

    National would gain more traction if they picked off some really weak ministers instead of concentrating on getting batted away by Ardern, Robertson, Hipkins and even Twyford. There are some easy pickings in this bloated cabinet.

    • Gezza

       /  September 6, 2018

      Nope – you mightn’t like him but Robertson can match & even often beat anyone on the Nats side. They got numbers? He’s got numbers. They got a withering op ed opinion piece? He’s got an optimistic one. They claim negative survey results? He can table a supportive one. He’s doing fine batting away all the googlies & fast balls at the moment.

      • High Flying Duck

         /  September 6, 2018

        Robertson is well spoken, likeable and presents a very good front, whether you agree with it or not. Same as Joyce used to do.
        It’s not by mistake that HE is the ventriloquist.
        But you don’t need to drop far down the list of MP’s before the gaping chasm in competence emerges.
        Twyford shouldn’t be on the leave list – he’s been tripped up several times already.

        • Gezza

           /  September 6, 2018

          Twyford, Clark, Curran, Jackson, Faafoi (maybe – if only for getting rats & mice stuff) Whaitiri, Kiri Allen can’t do much but read out Patsy Question scripts – all good targets ATM. Salesa. Not a lot of substance in her verbiage. Those first four always will be. Might as well have Kick Me signs on their backs.

          • High Flying Duck

             /  September 6, 2018

            I’ve been impressed with Kris Faafoi. Seems to know his stuff and is quietly getting things done. Interviews well also.

            Meka may not be dead in the water yet either:

  6. High Flying Duck

     /  September 6, 2018

    Looks like yesterday’s questions from Melissa Lee were the set up. Today may be the punchline:

    • High Flying Duck

       /  September 6, 2018

      And she ran for the hills…(The Government refused leave for Melissa Lee to hold over the question until she returned – so they know she’s hiding something…again):

      • Blazer

         /  September 6, 2018

        nothing unusual about taking leave.

        • High Flying Duck

           /  September 6, 2018

          Was embarrassed yesterday, had follow ups today – is in Wellington as it happens, but taking leave and the Government refuses leave to hold the question over.
          Yep. Nothing unusual – for Labour.

    • High Flying Duck

       /  September 6, 2018

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  September 6, 2018

        Maybe Curran is the leaker? Kind of makes it all fit.

        • High Flying Duck

           /  September 6, 2018

          She seems to be a complete flake, so I’m not sure anything fits. She may just be dim.

          While it would be nice to tie it all up in a bow and have CC outed as the leaker, I would be surprised if that was the case.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  September 6, 2018

            I guess I’d be surprised too but it is amazing how all the loose ends fit that suggestion.

  7. High Flying Duck

     /  September 6, 2018

  8. Strong For Life

     /  September 6, 2018

    Clare Currant has to go!!

  1. Ministers using private email accounts — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition