Privacy Commissioner to examine MSD demands for social service users' information

The Privacy Commissioner has announced an investigation into the Ministry of Social Development's requirement that social service providers collect and hand over the private information of their users, Radio NZ reports.

Radio NZ quotes Social Service Providers Aotearoa national manager Brenda Pilott:

Women's Refuge, telephone counselling lines and citizen advice bureaus were among the many organisations that would be affected, she said.

"There's hundreds and hundreds of organisations.

"If you were to, for example, to go into a counselling service for a couple of sessions, MSD don't currently know about you - from July, they will."

Ms Pilott said she was concerned about the chilling effect that could create.

"Providers won't get funded if the person doesn't agree to their information being handed over, so that creates an immediate tension between the service user and the service provider.

Of course, such data becomes an attractive target for Police production warrants and intelligence agency snooping - adding to the chilling effect that discourages people from seeking help.

MSD's plan to require this information from all providers was described in its Community Investment Strategy Update 2016 published last August and extends beyond just the user themselves:

Client level data minimum requirements are as follows:

Client Name, address, gender, date of birth, primary ethnicity, iwi.
Dependents Name, date of birth, relationship to client.
Service Level Information Programme/service name, start date and end date

That document also describes some of the intended cross-agency data matching that will occur.

As we develop our capability to use this data effectively, we will be able to look across other programmes and services that clients access (funded by other Government agencies)

..

Data analytics is about harnessing the latest technology to analyse different sources of information to uncover patterns, correlations and other insights about vulnerable people..

This suggests a data repository of sensitive personal information identifying many different services the individual has accessed. It seems likely this refers to the Social Investment Unit's "data exchange" data-matching and sharing platform.

Data sharing agreements - increasingly common among government agencies - could see the information spread even further. Women's Refuges have a proven need to be very security conscious - these women are often fleeing violent men. Some of these men undoubtedly work for the agencies that this information will be made available to.

The capture and sharing of this information is a further threat to the very vulnerable people who are seeking help. How many of them will decide that they cannot risk it?

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