Privacy complaints soar as public loses trust

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 15:19 28/11/2012

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Government agencies need to up their game on privacy if they want to retain public trust, the Privacy Commissioners says.

The commissioner's annual report show the public is increasingly suspicious of the handing of personal information as complaints reach a record high.

In the year to June 30, the commissioner received 1142 complaints, topping-off a steady rise over the past five years.

Commissioner Marie Shroff said the figures correlated to growing public concern about how personal information was being used.

While people initially embraced digital information sharing, such as Facebook, privacy scares both nationally and internationally had fuelled growing distrust, she said.

Two big privacy breaches at ACC and the Social Development Ministry this year showed some government agencies needed take digital privacy more seriously to retain public trust.

''The tech revolution has crept up on them,'' she said. ''The link between public trust and responsible stewardship has not been made in the minds of some people.''

In 2012, the most complained about organisation were all government agencies, with ACC taking the top spot with 173 complaints.

Earlier this year it was revealed ACC had inadvertently emailed the private details of more than 6700 clients, including 250 sexual abuse cases, to claimant Bronwyn Pullar.

The Social Development Ministry was the subject of 60 complaints, the fourth highest. The figures do not include complaints arising from the Work and Income public kiosk breaches last month.

However the vast majority of complaints are rejected with only 15 concerning ACC judged to have ''substance''.
In 2012, privacy complaints resulted in 62 apologies, 22 rule changes and 20 financial pay-outs, most of them under $5000.

About half of complaints were directed at public organisations.

Two major reviews of Government privacy are still underway, with both expected before the end of the year.

The second half of Social Development Ministry review it the public kiosk privacy breach, will examine its organisation culture, policies and management.

A separate review commissioned by the Government Chief Information Officer Colin MacDonald is reviewing public access to all government IT systems.

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