Editorial: Computer says ... not again

23:40, Feb 23 2014

Well this is just peachy. Thousands more New Zealanders are owed apologies, maybe money, after the latest examples of officialdom being just mortified by problems with those confounded computers of theirs.

Southern DHB has lost the breast exam images of more than 3000 women - but never mind, because the results had already been filed in patients' case notes. No harm done then?

Except that nobody from the board has said that come to think of it they don't for the life of them know why they were keeping those inconsequential files in the first place, so they'll all be junked now. No, they were a backup that doesn't exist any more.

Then we have the 20,000 cases of innocent people being ticketed by mistake for speed camera offences between October 22 and December 16 last year, after the change-of-ownership data from the NZ Transport Agency was not automatically updated on police systems.

Just an isolated fault, folks. Shame about the unknown number of people who must now be refunded having caved in to the unjustified menace of the fine system. How those people must have chuckled in front of their tellies at the latest government advertising campaign showing a beefy guy in a dark suit stuffing up the lives of people who don't pay their fines like good little citizens. Of course, the unjustly pinged could have complained . . . though there was that separate problem with the swamped phone system stopping them getting through. Apologies for that too.

You've got to love the comment from Police Minister Anne Tolley who pronounces herself very pleased that her department "fronted up and admitted what's happened". So what was the alternative reaction that she's just indicated was open to them?


We've had southern police passing electronic files to court defendants, under the rules of disclosure, that were so incompetently redacted- in spite of the process being laughably simple - that the defendants could easily have removed the blackout screens and seen the names of informants and undercover agents.

We've seen Work and Income operating online self-service kiosks through which acutely sensitive information could be accessed by people with just a reasonable degree of know-how. ACC emailing private details of more than 900 claims to a baffled recipient - hundreds of them classed as acutely sensitive - and then doing precisely nothing about it until it became public. Our teachers have been hammered by the Novopay failures. Our poor old politicians have even been victimised. The Parliamentary Service last year suffered an electronically-generated system error passing the banking details of nine MPs to Vodafone. Our favourite piece of that report was the no-mucking-about conclusion. "A manual system was being put in place".

The problem goes beyond inadequate IT skills or equipment. Attitudes aren't good. The Privacy Commissioner has reported breaches made under what were meant to be tightly regulated information-sharing agreements between Government agencies. In 22 of 54 such agreements, parties had not stuck scrupulously to the rules and in 10 cases there were "substantial" problems, including not destroying private information and sharing the wrong information.

In one such case the the Ministry of Social Development had been tracking people using their tax numbers. That's flat-out illegal.

Talking of tax, Inland Revenue is to spend $1 billion to $1.5b replacing its pig of a computer system. This might be a good time to ask yourself - or even better, the Government - what might possibly go wrong?

The Southland Times