Beneficiaries and Privacy Commissioner on MSD investigation breaches

Newshub Nation interviewed beneficiaries who had been investigated by MSD, and then Privacy Commissioner John Edwards on the breaches of law and what MSD will do now.

On Newshub Nation: Emma Jolliff interviews Privacy Commissioner John Edwards

Jolliff: The Privacy Commissioner says MSD’s powers to investigate have been taken too far. I asked him how serious the breaches have been.

Edwards: That’s hard to rank them because everything is so contextual. I was really troubled by the breadth of the ministry’s data collection in these cases, particularly of text message content. In most law enforcement contexts, you wouldn’t be able to get that information without a warrant issued by some judicial officer — that means an independent person has to look at the case that you’re making for getting access to it, they have to decide whether what you’re seeking is proportionate to the need, and then issue the instruction. These are just demands issued by some clerk or bureaucrat or investigator without adequate checks and balances, in my view. And especially given the sensitive nature of that information, in ranks pretty highly.

In simple terms, how do you see that MSD has breached the law?

By simply ignoring the statutory requirement to seek the information from the beneficiary first, unless doing that would prejudice the maintenance of the law. That’s the headline story. Beneath that, there are a number of instances in which I think the ministry has just lost track of the kind of developing jurisprudence that governs these things. Getting 10 years worth of banking records to investigate one year worth of benefit entitlement us just completely disproportionate. We’ve got to keep recalibrating those enforcement techniques against what we know is legally acceptable in terms of the Bill of Rights Act, you know — the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

Do you see that MSD has accepted that its breached the law?

I’m happy that the ministry has accepte my report. I’m happy that the Chief Executive has assured me that they are going to implement all the recommendations, and they have conceded that the actions that they’ve taken have been unlawful.

MSD justified its collection of personal information about beneficiaries from third parties by saying clients wouldn’t volunteer information, and it was just quicker to go to the third parties. What do you say to that?

Well, that’s not the law, and it also presupposes that the only reason you notify the beneficiary first is to get access to the information. I mean, a beneficiary probably can’t delivery up 10 years of banking information, but what it does do is it informs them that those inquiries are being made. It gives them the opportunity to exercise some autonomy over that.

Could MSD identify any cases where evidence tampering occurred because a client was approached before a third party?

Not as far as I’m aware.

The Privacy Commissioner’s office expressed concerns to MSD about collection of information as far back as 1998, yet they carried on with the practice. This just suggests that they are disregarding the requests of your office, doesn’t it?

Back in 1998 the reference in our report was to the inadequacy of the record-keeping in the ministry because one of the things that was difficult in our investigation is that they simply didn’t have good records. They couldn’t tell us how many times they were issuing these notices, how many times they were going to a beneficiary first. We would ask, and we would get one set of records, then we’d get a completely different version.

So it hasn’t improved despite your requests?

No, it hasn’t improved, and it needs to. And that’s one of our recommendations, and I’m pleased that the ministry have said that they’re going to implement that. We need to have nationally consistent reporting of how these tools are used.

How important is that, and why is that?

Well, it’s really important, and, again, this is about the integrity of the public service. Everybody recognises that beneficiaries have some duties to the ministry, to the government, in terms of their eligibility. The ministry also has duties to act within the law and to demonstrate that it’s acting proportionally. If it is not complying with its obligations, how can it, with any moral authority, expect anyone else to?

Your report also found the MSD had issued notices under Section 11, stating that they’d been approved by the Privacy Commissioner. Was the misleading?

Well, utterly. It was wrong. It was misleading. I’m not able to speculate on the origins of that. I would very much doubt somebody intended to mislead, but they’ve got the wrong end of the stick. We’ve called them out on it, and, to their credit, they withdrew those.

So does this suggest that the Privacy Commission needs greater powers, do you feel?

I have made a call for greater powers, but in fact, when it comes to my monitoring of government agencies, I think that the authority that we have is sufficient. I mean, you will come back to the ministry, as the Nation — as TV3 — in 12 months, and say, ‘Look, tell us what you’ve done to implement the Privacy Commissioner’s recommendations.’ And if they haven’t, then you’ll hold them to account. That, I think, is really important.

You shouldn’t really want to rely on the fourth estate to do that, though. You should have your own powers, shouldn’t you?

Well, you have a role. Other members of parliament and advocacy groups in the community have a role. They will all hold them to account. I was very pleased to see the Minister reacting to our report, and saying, ‘Well, actually it’s great that the ministry have said that they accept the recommendations, that they’re going to implement them, but I think we need to have another look at the legislative underpinnings of this, and see whether there needs to be a law change.’ That’s really positive as well.

Some legal experts have suggested that beneficiaries could take legal action against MSD under the Bill of Rights. Would you agree that that is an avenue that they could pursue, and should they be entitled to compensation?

Certainly if somebody felt that they had experienced significant humiliation or significant injury to feelings because of breaches of the Privacy Act, they could bring a complain to my office. Now, because of the numbers involved in this mismanagement by the ministry over many years, I’m recommending that if somebody does feel that they might’ve been caught up with this, they first direct their inquiry to the Ministry of Social Development.

Can you remind us what those numbers were because you said that was something difficult to ascertain as well?

Starting point — about 15,000 cases.

MSD’s committed to ceasing their blanket policy, as you say, in approaching third parties for information, reviewing the code of conduct, having their investigative practices independently assessed. Does that go far enough?

Look, I think that goes a long way. What we need to do here is to restore the integrity of the system, so that people who are receiving benefits know that they have duties, know that they will be treated fairly and according to the law.

What concerns were raised by private sector agencies like the telcos over the information that they felt they were being compelled to provide?

Those industry groups have felt really uncomfortable about this. They provide services to customers, and they don’t feel like they should be snooping around in their private lives, but when they receive one of these notices from the ministry, they are under a legal obligation to comply.

Have these people, these 15,000 or so, been denied a fundamental human right?

Well, everybody has the right to avoid arbitrary interferences with their liberty and their privacy. So, in some cases, yes, they will have.

Transcript from Newshub Nation/Able/Scoop

MSD, DIA say no Super leak from them

Following an Inland Revenue investigation that found no evidence of a leak of Winston Peter’s super over payment – see  Inland Revenue “could not have been the source” of Super leak – both the Ministry of Social Development and the Department of Internal Affairs also found no evidence of a leak from their departments.

Ministry of Social Development releases investigation finding:

MSD on Winston Peters super leak investigation

Following information regarding Mr Winston Peter’s Superannuation payments entering the public arena, the Ministry launched an investigation to assess whether there was any indication that a Ministry employee may have been the source of the information.

That process is now complete, and we can confirm that all staff that had access to the relevant information had a reasonable business purpose for accessing it, and there is no evidence that this information was passed to a third party.

The Ministry holds a great deal of very personal information about people and their families that New Zealanders trust us to safeguard.

Both data searches and staff interviews were employed in this investigation.
If further information relating to this matter comes to light, MSD will make further investigations as necessary.

 

DIA statement: Privacy investigation complete

Department of Internal Affairs investigation into Peters leak

We investigated whether any Ministerial Services staff received or passed on information regarding the Rt. Hon. Winston Peters’ superannuation matter.

The investigation process included a search of digital records and a series of interviews with Ministerial Services staff. It found that five Ministerial Services employees had received the information before it was reported by media.

There was no evidence that the information was provided to media or third parties by these staff members.

The Department takes privacy seriously, and upholding the confidentiality of information forms part of the Code of Conduct all employees sign.

If further information comes to light, the Department will undertake further inquiries as necessary.

Peters claims he was alerted to the leak before it happened by a ‘very senior National Party person’ but no details or names have been given.

Details and timeline at RNZ: Third probe fails to find leaker of Peters’ super info

Confession of a guilty man

Guest post from Patupairehe:


Recent events in the media have been bothering me. A few of our so called representatives have been somewhat economical with the truth, in their past dealings with what is now known as the MSD. Some have also been less than upfront with the public, but lets not go there. That is not why I’m writing this. I am writing because I have a confession to make. In the distant past, I too, have failed to meet my ‘obligations’ to the ministry. Not that I feel guilty about it, I just think that if Metiria can ‘fess up, and explain why she did it, then so should I. As she opined in a recent article on the Stuff website, “”…it’s worth me taking the hit if it means New Zealanders understand how appalling our welfare system has become and how easy it is to fix it.” So here is my story…

My now wife & I had children young, and it was often a struggle to make ends meet on an apprentice’s wage in the late 90’s. A family friend suggested we apply for the accommodation supplement, so my then partner phoned WINZ to find out how. She was informed we would be mailed some forms to fill in, and that we would need to bring these to a meeting with a case manager, along with our birth certificates, some of my payslips, and a joint bank account statement (which was to prove that we were in a de-facto relationship).

I remember thinking at the time how silly it was, that they wanted her to prove we were entitled to less money than she would have been, had we not been honest about our relationship. I had to take time off work to set up the joint bank account, and also to attend the meeting with our case manager. At the conclusion of the meeting, the case manager informed us that we were entitled to around $20 each per week, then asked if we both wanted our payments to be made into the joint account. She didn’t seem to understand why I found that question funny.I was also told that I must inform WINZ of any changes to my income, by ringing the call center on payday.

The first time I rang the call center was on a Thursday around 2 weeks later, as I was paid fortnightly. We had already received our first 2 benefit payments, and the lady on the phone informed me that due to me  working overtime, we had been overpaid, but not to worry about it because it would be deducted in installments from future ‘entitlements’. A few days later, we both received letters stating we had been overpaid, that this ‘debt’ must be repaid, that it would be deducted at $X/week, and that our new weekly entitlement was $X/week before repayment deductions.

A fortnight later, I rang the call centre again, and after waiting on hold for around 20 minutes, a different woman answered. As I had worked less hours than last time, she was happy to inform me that both my partner & I had been underpaid, and that we would both be paid the difference (which was <$10) within two working days. I told her to just credit it against what we ‘owed’, but apparently she couldn’t do that. A few days later, we both received a letter, which informed us that an underpayment had been credited to our bank account.

This silliness went on for just over a year, during which my partner & I accumulated just under 30 letters each. Then one Wednesday, our benefit payments didn’t appear in our account. When I rang to report my pay that Thursday, I asked why, and was told that it was because my partner had failed to return a form they had sent her. When I asked her about it, she dug around in our filing cabinet and found it. She had thrown it in there without even opening it, because “They send us stupid bloody letters all the time!”.
The form was around 15 pages long, and asked all manner of irrelevant questions, such as “Are you descended from a NZ Maori?”. To this day I fail to understand what that had to do with my income, or how much rent we paid. But we filled it out honestly anyway, and our benefit was re-instated the following week.

I kept ringing up every payday for several months, and waited on hold for around half an hour on average. The computer generated letters kept arriving, and our average payment amount slowly decreased, as my pay increased. Our payments were down to around $10 each/week when I stopped ringing them. It just didn’t seem worth waiting half an hour on the phone once a fortnight for, and we figured that we’d just wait for them to stop paying us, when we ignored the next written interrogation from them. I had also been informed by a friend, whose sister was a WINZ case manager, that they wouldn’t bother attempting to recover ‘debts’ of under $2000.

Sure enough, my then partner eventually received a form ,and ignored it. A few weeks later, we both had our benefits cut, and she got a dirty letter from WINZ, which stated that we would not get any more money until she filled in the form. She ignored that one too. And that was the last we heard about it.

I’m not sure if things are still the same nowadays. I wouldn’t know, having not claimed a benefit for quite some time. What I do know, is that a significant percentage of the welfare budget is spent on administration, and I can understand why, if my experience is anything to go by.

 

Questions over ‘no surprises’ policy

Audrey Young writes Peters’ case highlights an abuse of the ‘no surprises’ policy

No story with Winston Peters at the centre of it was ever going to be a one-day wonder.

And it just got a whole lot more serious.

There are disturbing and unanswered questions about his superannuation overpayment, whether you think he is the victim of a media beat-up, or are not willing to accept his assurance it was an error without proof.

The Government is now at the centre of the controversy after an admission by Social Development Minister Anne Tolley to the Herald.

She said she was told on August 15 by an official about MSD’s private meeting with Peters and what the subject of the meeting was – well after the meeting, well after he had paid back the money.

She was technically told under the “no surprises” policy, in which the public service chiefs and SOE boards forewarn ministers of issues that could suddenly become news and which will require their response. The “and” is important.

The fact that Tolley is unwilling to discuss the issue any further because it is a private matter is evidence enough that she should not have been told in the first place.

It is an abuse of the no-surprises policy. No minister should have been privy to that sort of information any more than the Health Minister should receive reports on any hip replacement operation Peters might have.

If Tolley had no expectation of receiving such information, she should say so publicly and conclude that the ministry’s decision was a misjudgment.

If she doesn’t, it is safe to assume that she and ministers have created an expectation they should get information like that.

This on it’s own is an important issue.

But, especially with Peters on the warpath, there are possible serious repercussions in the short term.

What Tolley did with the information is not yet clear, nor how far up the chain it went and whether National’s black ops guys are back in business.

But the very fact it was fed to the Beehive will cause suspicion by Peters that National leaked the information to discredit him.

It was obvious that some suspicion would fall on National. So if someone in National is responsible for the leak it would have been very stupid – stupid isn’t uncommon when politics gets dirty.

If National are found to be responsible, or even just widely perceived to have probably been involved, it could be very damaging for their election chances, and for their chances of negotiating a coalition with Winston Peters.

Other possibilities shouldn’t be ruled out. Because it was predictable that National would be implicated they could have been set up here.

I don’t think Winston has has embarrassed himself.

Who would do that? Who has been gunning for National and English for months?

Yesterday morning on Whale Oil Face of the Day:

But what you have here is one of Bill English’s failed hit jobs.  Leaked via Tolley, the NZ Herald has tried to make it stick.

Don’t you love election time?

Oh, and it’s not dirty politics if they don’t use blogs.

That’s an accusation yesterday that it was “leaked via Tolley”. Even if it was someone seems to have leaked that information to Whale Oil. They could just have easily leaked straight to Whale Oil.

And being unable to resist bragging Whale oil has more today: “The Herald can reveal” something Whaleoil published yesterday

It was leaked to “the media” days after it was “leaked to Whaleoil”.   We sat on it for the weekend, but first thing Monday morning, we wrote…

…what I have quoted above.

And as we know about the New Zealand Herald, first they will take the leak and make it a story and then they make the leaker a story.  Two stories for the price of one, especially when the first hit fails.  Winston ends up being the victim here instead of the villain.

God what a bunch of amateurs on the 9th floor.  Especially Eagleson.  You’d think he’d have learned a thing or two back in the day.   It seems not.

Now they are all running for cover and doing Sgt Shultz impressions.  And you know what I always say:  It’s not the original offence, it’s the cover-up that gets you.   

Anne Tolley will have been told she’ll be looked after if things get too bad.   You see, it’s never the likes of Eagleson or English that will go down for this.  Releasing private MSD information on a political opponent is a career ending move.  And Tolley was told to do it.

Whenever John Key phoned he always made sure that I was to know that if Wayne called me that he was for all intents and purposes the same as Key… He would say “When Wayne speaks he speaks for me”.

So now Tolley has been told to hang in there.  She’ll be ok.  Just  look how that worked out for Jason Ede and Todd Barclay.

She has this morning to throw Eagleson under the bus and save her career.   Doubt she will have the smarts to do it.

Bill English is causing a lot of stress inside National.  As I predicted he is effing up the unlosable election and loyalty becomes paper-thin once people feel their own jobs are on the line.

If I knew about this before the Herald did, just think about how unhappy the people around Bill must be.

Of course, I decided to sit on it for a bit.   No point helping Bill out.  He’s too busy working his way into opposition.  Attacking Winston Peters like this has all but assured a Labour/NZ First government.

And I say this without a trace of smugness or satisfaction:  you all didn’t believe me.  You thought it was personal.  I told you Bill English is exactly what you are seeing now.  He was the wrong man for the job.   And I will not vote for National while he is in charge of it.   The man is not capable of being a party leader.

His real problem is that he’s lost the confidence of his team.  I knew days before the Herald knew.  And the Herald was leaked to as well.   These are the hallmarks of a power structure crumbling and falling to dust.

Whale Oil claims it was leaked to them first and they did nothing with it. That seems out of character going by past attention seeking.

They could be right, they could have been informed before anyone else, did nothing about it and waited to let it all turn to custard, then claim bragging rights afterwards.

If so then National deserves to be dumped in disgrace.

But at this stage I would prefer to keep an open mind on who is responsible.

What is most credible?

That National would blatantly abuse privacy in a political hit job knowing the spotlight would be on them, and knowing there was a huge political risk?

Or that Whale Oil would bring down the Government they have openly been trying to undermine and destroy for years – pretty much since National cut Cameron Slater loose after Dirty Politics broke during the last election campaign.

Slater has been noticeably out of the political loop for a long time, but suddenly he claims to know everything that has happened and everyone responsible.

That flashes some warning lights to me. he has a habit of throwing around incriminating and false claims.

There’s certainly dirty politics going on here. What’s not so clear is who is actually responsible.

There is a lot to clear up here. One that could do with clarification – Tolley is MSD. Peters claims that the leak came from IRD.

Peters pursuing Super leaker

Winston Peters is trying to find out who leaked the information about him being overpaid superannuation for a number of years.

There is some irony in the king of leak-mongers getting so upset over a leak but Peters as some justification for being grumpy.

There has been a lot of speculation about who leaked and who was responsible for circulating the leak to media. Inevitably ‘dirty politics’ has been suggested.

On Monday morning in an interview with RNZ Peters, referring to a conversation with Newshub’s Lloyd Burr, said “he did drop, what I did know or did suspect but he dropped it, the informant was IRD”.

Newshub now report:  Anne Tolley given heads up over Winston Peters’ pension overpayment

Newshub can reveal Social Development Minister Anne Tolley was given an early heads up about Winston Peters being overpaid superannuation.

Mr Peters met with the Ministry of Social Development on July 15 – one month later, on August 15, Ms Tolley was alerted under the No Surprises Act.

Newshub received an anonymous phone call just three days later on August 18. Ms Tolley says the leak did not come from her office.

So it took over a week for the story to come out.

Now the New Zealand First Leader is on the warpath, sending out investigators to try and find the source who leaked he was overpaid superannuation.

Stuff:  Winston Peters has investigators working on who leaked info about his pension overpayment

NZ First leader Winston Peters says he won’t stand by and let someone get away with “blatant dirty politics” after information about his superannuation overpayment was leaked.

“Someone decided they would break the law and leak it in a political way and some of those tweets and other comments point to knowledge out there that it was malicious and politically dirty,” Peters told media following a candidates meeting in Northland on Monday night.

“I’ve been flat out, as you know, on the campaign of issues and when I’ve got time I’ll turn my mind to it, but I’m not going to stand by and let someone get away with blatant dirty politics and breaking the law.”

Peters said he had investigators working on uncovering the leak and would let the public know who it was – “I’ve got my deep suspicions”.

He has a right to try to find out who breached his privacy.

But again, it’s highly ironic that Peters is so affronted by being embarrassed by a leak, when he has so often used leaks and even hints of leaks to embarrass political opponents.

He knows how to play dirty politics as well as anyone.

Peters seemed very flustered in interviews when this story broke, and it is highly embarrassing for him, so it seems very unlikely he would have ‘leaked’ this story himself to try to get some media attention and some voter sympathy.

But when politics gets dirty nothing should be ruled out.

The Peters denial (before his admission)

In Saturday Lloyd Burr from Newshub asked Winston Peters about whether he had more superannuation than he was entitled to.

The audio is here: Winston Peters’ shifting story over pension overpayment

Transcript:

Winston Peters: “I know the circumstances, I know who the hell, who filled the form out I know all that stuff, but I don’t know why on Earth you’re making this enquiry.”

Lloyd Burr: “Well, it’s just that you’re not giving me a straight-up answer, that’s why I’m keeping on asking about it.”

Winston Peters: “I’m giving you a straight-up answer. I don’t know who the hell your informant is but he doesn’t know what day it is.”

Lloyd Burr: “So it’s a no from you. That you haven’t claimed more pension.”

Winston Peters: “No, no, no, no. Nobody is going to call me up on this one of these sort of classic questions which is ‘have you stopped beating your wife’ type stuff. No one responds to that sort of stuff.”

Lloyd Burr: “I’m not ask… I mean this is a bit different.”

Winston Peters: “In this campaign I’ve been called this that everything else and I decided I am not going to answer respond to any of this sort of crap at all.”

Lloyd Burr: “With respect Mr Peters, why are you getting so defensive about this?”

Winston Peters: “I’ve got nothing to say at all.”

Lloyd Burr: “So you’re not even going to deny it, you’re not going to rule it out.”

Winston Peters:”I’m not going to have any comment to make about people running around making malicious statements about Winston Peters.”

Lloyd Burr: “It would be wrong of me if I didn’t go to…”

Winston Peters:”I’m keeping straight on my job. I am not going to give you any answers at all.”

Lloyd Burr: “Why not? If it didn’t happen, why can’t you just rule it out?”

Winston Peters:”Simply because I’m not going to respond to malicious statements which are not true. I’ll say to you one more time real slow Lloyd, you’re not going to get any response from me at all.”

That’s classic Peters indignation and denial. However last night he changed his stance somewhat when he put out a media statement.

A Mistake That Was Fixed

Some media contacts have called to alert me about a possible story about superannuation.

“From what I can glean it is about the following:

• In early 2010 I applied for superannuation, in the company of my partner, and in the presence of a senior official at the Ministry of Social Development.

“In July of this year, I was astonished to receive a letter from the Ministry to advise there was an error in my superannuation allowance and a request that I meet with them.

“I immediately contacted and met the area manager of MSD.

“It was unclear on both sides how the error had occurred leading to a small fortnightly overpayment.

“Suffice to say, we agreed there had been an error.

• Within 24 hours the error and overpayment had been corrected by me.

• I subsequently received a letter from the area manager thanking me for my prompt attention and confirming that the matter was concluded to the Ministry’s satisfaction.

So Peters has now admitted a mistake had been made.

What he hasn’t admitted is what mistake had been made, and who made the mistake.

If this was another MP (that wasn’t from NZ First) Peters would be likely to have a quite different view of the importance of a mistake in the amount of superannuation made for (apparently) seven years, since Peters reached the age of eligibility.

It seems that the most likely reason for an incorrect payment relates to having a spouse or partner.

Clipboard03

The current online application information is clear:

SuperOnlineApplication

https://www.workandincome.govt.nz/online-services/superannuation/client-circumstances.html

The current form is also clear:

SuperApplicationPartner

Household information:

SuperApplicationHousehold

And obligations are made clear regarding partners:

SuperApplicationPartner2

There is also a Partner’s residence Form that needs to be filled out of the partner is not receiving superannuation.

Obligations are also clear regarding partners.

SuperObligations.jpg

If a genuine mistake had been made by MSD then it would have been politically smart for peters to have been up front and open about the mistake being identified and rectified.

It justifiably would have raised questions about why Peters wasn’t aware he was being paid at the same rate. Super levels is the issue that Peters has championed more than anything else so one could assume he should know what the categories and levels of payment were.

We will see what else comes out about this.


UPDATE – from Newsroom: Co-habiting Peters billed $18,000

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters took higher superannuation payments than he was entitled to for seven years – while living with his de facto partner – and has been required to pay back $18,000 to the state.

Peters filled out forms when he turned 65 that qualified him for the single person’s superannuation rate, which is about $60 a week higher in this case than a person would receive if declared to be living with a partner, which he was.

The Labour Party made clear it could not have Turei, who took benefits greater than she was entitled to, serve in a future coalition cabinet. Peters and New Zealand First are potential Labour allies.

I’m sure Labour would like NZ First taken out of the coalition equation.

Peters and partner Jan Trotman live together in a dress circle, $2.65 million St Mary’s Bay home. Her application, on turning 65, for superannuation is said to have brought the discrepancy to the Ministry of Social Development’s attention. Newsroom understands Trotman had to say if she was single, married or in a de facto relationship. The information was cross-referenced and Peters’ lack of entitlement to the sum he was receiving was discovered.

It is not clear why that higher figure was not noticed – by Peters – over all seven years, given his deep knowledge of and commitment to superannuation.

Peters disputed claims in this article but wouldn’t offer any alternative facts.

 

Winston’s statement

Winston put out this statement in an apparent attempt to pre-empt a story from Newshub.

A Mistake That Was Fixed

Some media contacts have called to alert me about a possible story about superannuation.

“From what I can glean it is about the following:

• In early 2010 I applied for superannuation, in the company of my partner, and in the presence of a senior official at the Ministry of Social Development.

“In July of this year, I was astonished to receive a letter from the Ministry to advise there was an error in my superannuation allowance and a request that I meet with them.

“I immediately contacted and met the area manager of MSD.

“It was unclear on both sides how the error had occurred leading to a small fortnightly overpayment.

“Suffice to say, we agreed there had been an error.

• Within 24 hours the error and overpayment had been corrected by me.

• I subsequently received a letter from the area manager thanking me for my prompt attention and confirming that the matter was concluded to the Ministry’s satisfaction.

“I am grateful to the Ministry for their courtesy and the professional and understanding way they handled this error.

“Like the Ministry I believed the matter had been put to rest.”

It obviously hasn’t been put to rest.

MSD deputy cops one for the team for data bungle

Murray Edridge, a deputy chief executive in the Ministry of Social Development, has resigned over an embarrassing data bungle, but the Public Service Association (PSA) says that responsibility went wider than that.

Stuff: MSD deputy quits after botch-up with client data security, despite having ‘no direct involvement’

A senior civil servant has quit after a privacy botch-up at the Ministry of Social Development – but a union says others are also responsible for the bungle.

Murray Edridge​, a deputy chief executive at the ministry, will step aside, even though his boss, Brendan Boyle, said Edridge had “no direct involvement” in the client data controversy.

But responsibility went “wider than Mr Edridge and his colleagues”, PSA national secretary Glenn Barclay said.

The Public Service Association (PSA) said Edridge had taken the blame for security and privacy issues arising from client data collection.

Is one person falling on their sword sufficient?

The ministry’s poor handling of issues around the handling of sensitive and personal data in late March and early April triggered an independent inquiry.

Data sharing is a contentious issue and this was an embarrassing stuff up.

Former Deloitte consultant Murray Jack, who led the investigation, made it clear the ministry was asked to implement policy in an unworkable timeframe, and the security issues were a direct consequence of that, Barclay said.

“At a time of major organisational change, putting pressure on agencies to implement complex IT projects is unfair and unwise.

“We are very concerned about the pressure the Government can bring to bear on ministries when their pet policies are at stake.”

Political pressures in election year? Not a good reason to rush things.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley announced details of the independent review into MSD’s individual client level data system last month.

Client level data included beneficiaries’ demographic information and vital statistics, such as client addresses, details of their dependants and details of MSD programmes clients were enrolled in.

No privacy breach occurred in the IT botch-up, but the review found the IT system gave organisations access to other groups’ folders, with the potential to reveal vulnerable clients’ personal data.

The botch-up infuriated Tolley, being revealed as she promoted policies forcing non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to hand over personalised client data if they wanted Government funding.

Was she poorly advised about reasonable timeframes, or did she push things too hard?

On Tuesday, Boyle said the investigation confirmed the ability of other organisations to see one uploaded folder stemmed from human error, relating to the incorrect granting of access permissions.

Human error is easy with things like that, especially if under time pressure and with inadequate systems and tests to check crucial things like data security.

“While we are satisfied that no breach of privacy occurred, it is concerning that there was the potential for this to occur.”

Very concerning.

On John Key lying

There was comment here yesterday on whether John Key lied or not over claims that Government officials visited homeless people with the Salvation Army in Auckland. The Salvation army denied the visits had taken place as described.

Social media jumped on the ‘Key lied’ bandwagon.

So did Andrew Little: Andrew Little: Prime Minister John Key ‘patently lied’ about homeless comments

Labour leader Andrew Little has accused the Prime Minister John Key of lying in comments he made about homeless people.

“I can’t think of a time when the Prime Minister and another minister [have] patently lied about something that … hasn’t actually happened,” Mr Little told reporters at Parliament this afternoon.

The Labour leader made the allegation after Salvation Army contradicted a claim by Mr Key that Government officials had visited homeless in an Auckland park this week and had their offers of help declined.

I didn’t jump in to this story because I wanted to see what facts actually emerged. I don’t know that we have the whole story yet.

Mr Key said yesterday that some people who were approached in Bruce Pullman Park in Takanini on Monday night declined offers of help.

“MSD and the Sallies went around and knocked on eight cars that they could find,” he said.

“All eight of those people refused to take support either from Sallies or MSD.”

In a statement today, the Salvation Army said they turned down an offer by MSD to accompany them to the park, which was one of its regular visits to the site.

“[The Prime Minister’s] statements are incorrect,” the charity said.

“The Salvation Army declined the offer by MSD officials to accompany The Salvation Army as some of these people are very wary of Government officials.

“The results of this statement, as well as recent images of homeless people living in dire material hardship disseminated by the media, have deeply upset these people and have put the relationship between them and Salvation Army personnel in jeopardy, weakening the Army’s ability to assist them.”

“The Salvation Army has spent years developing relationships and building trust with these people living on the outer margins of society — people who often have a deep distrust of officials.”

I think it’s reasonable to tale the word of the Salvation Army, in which case it appears that Key was wrong.

But that doesn’t mean he lied, and I would be very surprised if he deliberately lied about something like this.

It’s absurd to think Key would concoct a story like this out of nothing to deliberately mislead.

A spokeswoman for Mr Key said his comments were based on advice that was given to him.

“The point he was making is that people have been approached and offered assistance and a large number of them have refused,” the spokeswoman said.

So I think it is most likely that Key misunderstood what he was advised or he was given incorrect or misleading information.

Of course this hasn’t stopped the Twitterati and others from claiming that Key is throwing Paula Bennett under a bus or throwing officials under a bus. Many people have been trying to portray Key as an inveterate liar for a long time.

Martyn Bradbury at The Daily Blog: Key just lies about the Salvation Army helping the homeless for him – media ask him if he’d shoot a gorilla

So when Key claimed his Ministry Officials and Salvation Army advocates went out to ‘help’ the homeless, it turns out he was lying…

Some have taken a more reasonable approach, like Mickysavage at The Standard in Salvation Army contradicts Key’s homelessness claims:

Key ought to apologise to the Salvation Army and to the homeless people, preferably personally.  And he should get his facts right before commenting.

Fair enough, I think an apology is justified. But some of the comments that followed were typical of common left wing lines of attack:

save nz:

This government are serial liars and every statement seems to harm someone, even damaging the relationships and reputation of the Salvation Army.

Lanthanide:

Key only apologises to Slater.

Wensleydale:

Oh, look, John Key’s telling lies again. Well, I never!

Andrew Little:

“I can’t think of a time when the Prime Minister and another minister [have] patently lied about something that … hasn’t actually happened,”

Ok, that last comment wasn’t at The Standard but it is along the same lines of attack.

I hope Key does publicly apologise to the Salvation Army for getting things wrong on a very sensitive and difficult to deal with topic. But I won’t hold my breath.

The overreaction from the left once again makes it easier for Key to bat this away as just more over the top petty attacks, which is a shame as it gets him off the hook when the issue of homeless people deserves serious attention.

Key has done some harm through what appear to be inaccurate comments, and he should do what he can to rectify that.

Little’s response was disappointing but unfortunately that adds to a disappointing  performance in general.

The shrill shills on the left are probably doing more harm to the homelessness issue by trying to turn this into just another key bashing exercise.

And they are doing more harm to their powerlessness issue as well.

MSD – can it get worse?

Admissions that the MSD data vulnerabilities may have been unaddressed for eighteen months.

MSD boss admits warnings might have been ignored

Ministry of Social Development CEO Brendan Boyle has admitted his agency might have ignored warnings from Dimension Data – the company that tested security on its WINZ kiosks.

“We received a report from Dimension Data in April 2011, which identified flaws in our system,” Mr Boyle said in a statement this morning.

At a press briefing yesterday afternoon, Mr Boyle said KPMG and Dimension Data consulted on security to the MSD. Dimension Data had carried out penetration testing on the kiosks and found no issues.

“Since yesterday afternoon I have received further information that means I am not confident that we took the right actions in response to Dimension Data’s recommendations on security. I will look to the review to provide me with the answers.

“We will be asking Deloitte to determine what we did to follow up this report’s recommendations and whether our response was adequate.”

He added, ““I can confirm that KPMG was not engaged to penetration test our public kiosks. They have, however, been engaged in doing testing on other parts of our system.”

http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/msd-boss-admits-warnings-might-have-been-ignored-ck-130774

This is looking like incompetence followed by ineptness.