More can be done to combat privacy breaches

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 13:00 11/04/2013

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Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff has told MPs more can be done to prevent public sector privacy breaches.

Since the highly-publicised major breach by ACC last year there has been a string of incidences where private information held by government departments has been leaked, or been publicly available, including by the Ministry of Social Development, Earthquake Recovery Commission, and education department.

Now the Government has revealed it is considering a huge expansion in data-sharing between departments through the use of a massive data hub.

Speaking to Parliament's social services select committee this morning, Shroff said there was an element of resignation from the Government in response to the breaches.

"Perhaps an impression that human error is to blame and that nothing can be done about it."

No system was perfect, but systems and process could be improved to reduce the likelihood of people making mistakes, she said.

"These recent events have formed a cluster... that we should pay attention to. And I believe it's inappropriate to blame the staff at the front line in every case."

Human errors were more likely to occur where privacy was not given the importance it deserved.

She was waiting for the results of a report by the Government Chief Information officer before commenting on whether there needed to be a public service-wide review.

"We have data breaches being reported to us all the time right across the public and private sectors. The intense media interest is however, relatively new."

"There's a risk of a lessen of public confidence and that would be a problem and it may be that something proactive would be a good idea to restore public confidence."

She acknowledged the watchdog role the Privacy Commission had but said it could not investigate every breach or complaint.

"I have to take a measured approach within my resources and capabilities and assess which of those breaches will require more action... I do think we've reached a point where something needs to be looked at."

Shroff stressed the commission had largely had the same budget level for eight years, and said it had reached its limit on being productive under scarce funding.

The commission has been invited to participate in 12 government working groups, on top of the international committees it is part of.

She said we were in the middle of the revolutionary environment.

"Information technology is going to transform the way we do business, the way we live our personal and social lives, and it's certainly going to transform government... I sometimes think it is like a global echo system that is growing out of control at atomic speed; it is growing, it is multiplying, it is mutating before our very eyes."

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She likened it to the invention of printing or the industrial revolution.

- Stuff

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