EQC chief offered to quit - Brownlee

ANDREA VANCE AND VERNON SMALL
Last updated 11:06 26/03/2013
Bryan Staples, EQC email blunder
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ

OPENED EMAIL: Earthquake Commission critic Bryan Staples was unintentionally sent details of 98,000 claims from 83,000 people. "They could not have sent it to a worse person," he said.

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Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says EQC boss Ian Simpson has offered to resign over the mass privacy breach, but he still has full confidence in the chief executive.

Simpson and Earthquake Commission chairman Michael Wintringham met Brownlee in Wellington this morning to explain how the details of more than 80,000 Earthquake Commission claims were sent as an attachment to an email to the head of an insurance advocacy company last Friday.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting today, Brownlee confirmed Simpson offered to quit, but he rejected it.

"I think he's done a very good job over a period of time," he said.

"This is a most unfortunate incident ... he said he understood it caused embarrassment to the Government and said that if he was a casualty of that he certainly understood that."

Brownlee said Simpson had also made the same offer to EQC board.

"They said they wanted him to get on top of the problem," the minister said.

Brownlee said progress on claims shouldn't "stumble in any way over this unfortunate incident".

The EQC information was sent to Bryan Staples, head of Earthquake Services.

Staples said he had not leaked information to Labour - but said there were five other people in the room when he got the email, which he subsequently deleted.

He said the attachment was "every bit of information that every homeowner in Christchurch has been trying to get out of EQC for years".

He has promised not to make any information public, but wanted the data to be released to homeowners.

"I'll take him at his word," Brownlee said of Staples' undertaking.

"What I do note is that the deal to get the email destroyed occurred about 40 minutes after it was sent. For five people to have viewed it in that time is somewhat unusual ... you would have to had a few minutes at least to work out how to get into those files."

Brownlee said calls for the information to be released were "quite unreasonable".

"Anybody can call up EQC and can get their scope of works provided to them," he said.

"What they won't get is the estimate of costs that EQC put on it because obviously we want tradespeople who are doing that work to compete for the work.

"If you say right up at the front what you expect to pay, you'll end up paying more. That would come straight out of the pockets of taxpayers."

Brownlee said EQC had "massive databases".

"Of course they should be careful, that's the issue," he said.

An "auto-address" system had brought up the emails of frequently contacted people.

"Mr Staples' name was among those and his name got attached to the email," he said.

"They are working very hard to put in new protocols that should prevent it happening. In the end the wrong address got put on an email."

A spokesman for Brownlee confirmed the minister's name was not on the database because his claim was greater than $100,000.

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Labour leader David Shearer said the mistake was the third major breach by a government department and basic safeguards were still not in place.

"We have to get to the bottom of why it is government departments can release sensitive data like this over and over and over," Shearer said.

Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff had said departments needed to be much more secure with information.

Shearer said Prime Minister John Key was making light of it, but it was undermining confidence that the Government could secure its information.

"Surely there are very basic safeguards that would stop this happening (such as) ensuring that a large file like this can't be sent outside a building," he said.

"For heaven's sake, it's not difficult."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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