Halt to leaked EQC details

BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 17:38 08/04/2013
Angel Lee, Ian Hamilton, Bryan Staples
David Hallett

WESTMORLAND: Angel Lee and Ian Hamilton welcome the chance to get more information.

Dennis Cundell
David Hallett
LYTTELTON: Dennis Cundell gets frustrated with EQC.

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The Earthquake Commission (EQC) has been granted an interim injunction from the High Court preventing further distribution of information from a leaked email.

This follows an offer by a blogger to provide confidential details to 83,000 homeowners on their EQC claim, believed to have come from a leaked EQC email.

The email, leaked by EQC to Christchurch businessman Bryan Staples, of Earthquake Services, contains information about a property's asbestos rating and EQC's latest estimate of the cost of repairing damage.

An unnamed blogger obtained the email and offered to release information to property owners if Earthquake Services had first verifed they were bona fide.

This prompted a stream of Christchurch residents into the Earthquake Services today.

However, a court injunction has now been served on Earthquake Services director Bryan Staples and the blogger known as EQC Truths.

In a statement, EQC chief executive Ian Simpson said the move was necessary as neither party had authorised access to the information and both were actively engaged in disseminating it.

"I have said earlier that EQC is determined not to add to any distress caused by the mistake by seeing the information spread further by third parties, and that has necessitated the intervention of the courts."

Earlier today, Staples said he had been inundated with inquiries and emails after a story in The Press highlighted the arrangement by which residents could get their information.

''I was here at 5am and a guy was already here. I put all my staff on this. There's certainly some anger out there.''

Angel Lee and Ian Hamilton, from Westmorland, who had come to the office to provide their details, said they were keen on getting the EQC estimate to see if squared with what they had been told on the telephone.

''EQC's response (to their requests for information) has been unsatisfactory without being rude about it,'' Hamilton said.

''They have been inconsistent. They come up with different stories and have been obstructive. We've had no progress since the earthquakes.''

Hamilton said the ability of residents to get their information on the leaked email was a good thing.

''Transparency is the problem. We would be inclined to believe what they say if they were open with information.''

Dennis Cundell, of Lyttelton, had also come into the office to start the process of getting his details from the email.

''My wife usually deals with EQC because I get too frustrated but she has just had a heart attack. Maybe these guys have some information we haven't got.''

The EQC Truths blogger told The Press yesterday the information was either the same or very similar to that received by claims advocate Bryan Staples.

He wanted to keep the identity of his source confidential.

"I have no compunction about releasing the information because I believe that each customer is entitled to know the value that EQC has assigned to their claim, which in many cases is an inaccurate figure."

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EQC said yesterday it was looking into the leak, but would not comment further while an earlier complaint relating to Staples was dealt with by police.

A fortnight ago an EQC manager mistakenly sent an email to Staples, who owns Earthquake Services, containing private information relating to 83,000 damaged homes.

The leaked email and spreadsheet contained a variety of information on Christchurch addresses, including each contractor's name and quote and what EQC estimated the repairs would cost.

The email and spreadsheet attachments were seen and inspected by another four or five people at Staples' office.

The EQC laid a complaint with police about Staples, who had promised not to keep or copy the email, because he had allegedly gone back on his word. They would not elaborate further on the nature of the complaint.

Staples said yesterday he did not leak the information to the man, but supported the man's decision to release information to claimants.

"I think he's doing the right thing, because how else can people get their own information? He's doing it in a way that's not breaching any privacy issues ... he's only telling them their information; not putting it up on the internet for everybody to look at."

Staples said he had been contacted by the man and was helping verify identities of people who wanted to know about their claim.

However, he would not distribute information about their claims because of legal threats already made against him by EQC.

The man said he would only release information to people who could provide a claim number, a copy of their rates notice, and a photo ID such as a passport or driver's licence in person and sign an authority to disclose.

He did not believe he was breaching any privacy laws by releasing the information. He decided to make details of the breach available, because EQC had "purposely withheld" information from claimants and had not been transparent in its processes.

"This is the only way to give EQC a kick up the backside."

Staples said the most important information contained in the breach would tell people whether their house had been classified to have asbestos and how much EQC had valued their damage at, he said.

"It's not all the pieces of the puzzle. This is just another step in understanding what the Government knows about your property that they're not prepared to tell you.

"If EQC hasn't got the guts to do it, at least somebody has."

Taylor Shaw partner Kathryn Dalziel, a specialist in privacy law, said she saw no privacy issues with the man releasing a person their own information.

If EQC argued he was breaching confidentiality, the man could attempt to defend himself by saying he had disclosed the information as a matter of public interest.

A spokeswoman for the privacy commissioner said people had a legal right under the Privacy Act to request their own information from a government agency that was holding it.

"They are perfectly entitled to go straight to EQC ... and expect to get the information."

An EQC spokesman said the agency had refused to release information to homeowners because some details were commercially sensitive.

- The Press

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