Editorial: Reassurances over privacy sound hollow

Last updated 05:00 16/10/2012

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OPINION: John Key must be wondering just what more could go wrong. At a time when he is still struggling to give any credible explanation on what he knew and didn't know about the Kim Dotcom saga, a new scandal threatens to take its toll on the Government.

Revelations of a massive privacy breach from computer kiosks at Work and Income branches is yet another blow to the perception that the National Government is able to manage the actual act of governing.

With the party having its roots among the business communities of the country, it has always presented itself as a superior option to manage the country's affairs.

This latest incident must put that at risk, especially coming so soon after the equally embarrassing and calamitous ACC privacy breach.

That came about on the back of what became known as the Bronwyn Pullar affair, which ultimately led to the resignations of ACC Minister Nick Smith, the chief executive and two board members, including the chairman.

In that incident, Ms Pullar was embroiled in a long-running dispute with the corporation when she was accidentally emailed the confidential details of more than 6000 ACC clients. It was a serious breach of their privacy and the inevitable internal reviews were promised to ensure there would never be a repeat.

Now we learn blogger Keith Ng found the Winz kiosks gave him access to the most intimate and private details imaginable.

These included private records, including the names of potential candidates for adoptions and foster parents; the names of clients who owed money; the names of children living in care and their addresses; the names of children and their medical prescriptions on pharmacy invoices and those clients being investigated for fraud.

It doesn't get much worse.

Naturally the ministry and the Government have been quick to react - not that they had much choice. A ministry spokesman said on Sunday night an urgent investigation had started and all kiosks across the country closed to ensure no further information could be accessed.

That will be cold comfort to those whose privacy had been compromised. Mr Key and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett have been equally swift to give reassurances, but right now they are sounding hollow.

To be fair, there is a modicum of sympathy for the plight in which the government departments and their political masters find themselves.

In this computer age 99 per cent of us have to accept certain assurances from the "experts" and "consultants" that the systems are as foolproof as their designers assure us.

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That said, it does not detract from the inherent truth of that sign on the desk of former American President Harry S Truman, which read "the buck stops here".

It will be interesting to see how many bucks it actually takes for that to come true with this Government. Who knows, we may find out the information is leaked because of a security lapse in the Government's computer systems.

- Taranaki Daily News

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