Briefcase of secret documents stolen

MICHELLE ROBINSON
Last updated 05:00 03/12/2012

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A briefcase containing sensitive information about the performance of 500 tertiary staff has been stolen.

The case was taken from an AUT University coffee shop yesterday after a panelist for the Performance-Based Research Fund left it at a table while going to the counter to buy a coffee.

A spreadsheet scoring researchers' work and evaluating how much fundraising they would receive was among documents taken, as were the names of 150 University of Otago staff and 347 others who had applied for government health funding.

"They're preliminary scores, the researchers will still find out their final scores. But no-one wants that information public," said Amanda Malu, Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) spokesperson.

Auckland police spokeswoman Noreen Hegarty said police were making inquiries but "nothing obvious has come from the initial flush".

The Performance-Based Research Fund distributes $250 million in government funding to tertiary institutions based on the quality of their research.

It's unknown who took the briefcase.

"It's a mystery, it seems to be a crime of opportunity," said Malu.

TEC deputy chief executive Colin Webb said it had referred the matter to the Privacy Commissioner and notified the tertiary institutes and individuals affected. 

"We understand the sensitivity of this information for the academic staff concerned and regret that this has happened," Webb said.

"Panel members have been reminded of the need for confidentiality, and they have received training and information throughout the year as well as written guidance. In this instance the information was left momentarily unattended in a common area at the meeting venue."

Affected institutes who submitted research to the panel include AUT University, Auckland University, Lincoln University, Massey University and the University of Waikato.

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