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Political Report: March 20

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| Tuesday, March 20, 2012 6:00 AM

Political Report: March 20

In 2008, the Privacy Commissioner released voluntary guidelines for government agencies to ensure the privacy of all clients was protected.

Releasing them, Commissioner Marie Shroff said she'd decided making the rules voluntary was the right first step.

Since then, the Law Commission has also looked at the contentious issue and recommended mandatory guidelines be developed. The Government has not made any moves in that direction.

In that time there's been a number of breaches of privacy and releases of sensitive information.

Social development minister Paula Bennett released the details of a beneficiaries payments, personal employment details relating to a wharfie who spoke out against the Ports of Auckland were made public last week and now the name and details of the recipient in the ACC case and her support person is known.

In most cases the information has either been leaked to the media or made public through bloggers. No matter how it's done, any such release is distressing for the person involved and embarrassing for the department.

In the ACC case it seems the woman involved has an axe to grind with the corporation and what really went on in terms of whether she asked for money, or whether managers offered it, is murky.

ACC minister Judith Collins has climbed into the woman saying her behaviour in keeping the information and trying to negotiate with the department is outrageous. And now we find out National insider Michelle Boag was also involved and lobbied ministers on it - a strange move, although totally within her rights.

The corporation has a history of such accidental releases of information. For an agency that holds such private and often sensitive information, you'd think the lesson would have been learnt by now and some stricter procedures put in place.

One of the suggestions in last week's initial report to Ms Collins is that the corporation's employees only have one task open on their computer at a time and all sensitive documents are password protected. Simple stuff but not the answer to a much bigger problem.

An issue is how far are the Government and companies willing to go when it comes to releasing people's private information in order to win a PR battle and should we be concerned about that?

Maybe some mandatory guidelines are needed. If there were even basic regulations then agencies would perhaps put more of a priority on ensuring private information remained just that - private.

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