Westpac argued contract allows it to release customer data
Westpac's claim that its terms and conditions allowed it to release client data to police without a warrant has been rejected by the Privacy Commissioner.
John Edwards has ruled that Westpac breached journalist Nicky Hager's privacy when it released information about him.
Before raiding his home, police asked Westpac for more than 10 months of Hager's bank transactions. They did not have a warrant or production order for that information but said Hager was being investigated for fraud.
The release by Westpac was done under an agreement that police had reached with all New Zealand banks.
Banks agreed to release information to the police without the need for a warrant where the police said it was needed for an investigation, particularly one involving fraud.
Under the Privacy Act, Westpac may release personal information if it reasonably believes it is necessary to assist the police investigation.
But in this case, Westpac was given no information to support the claim that this information was needed.
Westpac argued its terms and conditions allowed it to release Hager's personal information.
Edwards rejected Westpac's arguments.
"The effect of Westpac's submissions would appear to be that it believes that every customer has authorised the disclosure of all of their information from each of their accounts to police for whatever reason police give, without recourse to production orders or other authorities. I simply cannot accept that is a well-founded belief. As a general proposition it seems untenable that Westpac would genuinely hold this belief.
"I am sure it would come as a surprise to a great many of Westpac's customers that this were so. "
Hager said it was not a situation restricted to Westpac bank. "The police had this arrangement with all banks. All customers should be asking their bank in what circumstances their bank will release their personal information to the police and others."
The Privacy Commissioner's view is only advisory. To obtain binding orders, Hager must take his case to the Human Rights Tribunal.
Westpac has been approached for comment.