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A new Ministry of Social Development (MSD) proposal could see more than 800 social services having to provide client’s names, birthdates, ethnicities, and the personal details of any dependents, in order to secure contracts.
The ‘data-for-funding’ scheme has been criticised by privacy law experts, and affected organisations — particularly Women’s Refuge and Rape Crisis, the latter of which has said they would not accept the contract if the proposal went ahead.
Peter Galvin, General Manager of Community Outcomes and Services, told Salient that MSD takes data security “very seriously” and would only ever require the provision of client data that is “needed to support our work for the New Zealand public.”
The necessity of the information, however, has been called into question. Katrine Evans, a Senior Associate at Hayman Lawyers, said there is a “strong argument” to say that the proposal falls foul of the Privacy Act 1993, as the collection of data is “unjustifiably intrusive.”
Evans noted that although conceivably the data could be used by MSD to provide better assistance, if this were the case, individuals’ “trust and buy-in” is essential. Evans said that the risk of this kind of collection, for organisations like Rape Crisis and Women’s Refuge, is that people won’t feel safe to ask for help, leading to “worse outcomes for our most vulnerable.”
Labour MP and spokesperson for Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni, said “women and the children who seek help from Women’s Refuge deserve privacy and anonymity,” and that the level of data sought from non-government organisations for funding was “invasive.”
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has launched an investigation as to the legality of the proposal. Galvin said MSD is working closely with the Privacy Commissioner on the matter, and is “open to making changes to our processes […] where warranted.”
However, Evans warned that, “given the uncertainty,” MSD should be wary of collecting any information without proper safeguards in place.