Government to probe massive privacy breach of Covid-19 cases

Government to probe massive privacy breach of Covid-19 cases

Jane Patterson
Wellington, July 4, 2020

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins (RNZ Photo by Dom Thomas)

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins said that the government will do everything it can to track down who is responsible for a massive privacy breach relating to New Zealand’s active Covid cases, and is not ruling out pursuing criminal charges.

An investigation has been ordered into the breach, with a leak revealing the personal details and identities of New Zealand’s 18 active Covid cases.

RNZ has seen a document that includes the full names, addresses, ages and the names of the hotel and one hospital in which the people have been quarantining.

Criminal charges possible

Mr Hipkins said that the investigation could result in criminal charges, depending on the outcome.

“Ultimately, if there are avenues available to us to pursue somebody who has done this maliciously, then we will certainly be exploring those. This is not the sort of thing that I am willing to let go. This is a major breach of trust and confidence and it should be rigorously pursued,” he said.

Mr Hipkins said that he was “very, very angry” that such highly sensitive information was leaked, but said the source was still unknown.

It would be “abhorrent” if it were a deliberate act, he said.

The information is held by a number of agencies and by some involved in the management of managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

Mr Hipkins said that the State Services Commission has been asked to work with all the relevant agencies, since several government agencies are involved.

Thorough investigation

“At this point, we do not have certainty about where in the process the information has ended up being released. To identify what the record keeping practices are, who has access to the information, how it came into the public domain, I want them to do that really thoroughly, I want them to leave no stone unturned,” Mr Hipkins said.

He said that motive also had to be determined, whether it was a mistake “and then, someone took advantage of the mistake they made, or whether it was more malicious than that”.

Someone “impartial” would be brought in to carry out the investigation, which may also involve forensic analysis of IT systems, Mr Hipkins said.

“I think it is important that we bring someone in who is not directly involved … which is what the State Services Commissioner will help to facilitate.”

Message to people

He had the  message for the thousands of people coming through the border regime, who are obliged to hand over personal information.

“On behalf of the whole government, and I am not sure where in the government the system has fallen down, I apologise to those people; this is not acceptable; no government should tolerate this kind of behaviour and we won’t. And I want to give an absolute assurance that we will get to the bottom of it, and that we will make sure it does not happen again and that anyone who has acted maliciously will be held accountable for that,” Mr Hipkins said.

National Party Leader Todd Muller (RNZ Photo by Dom Thomas)

Shabby says Todd Muller

The National Party Leader says that the major leak of personal details revealing the identity of New Zealand’s active cases is “unacceptable and shabby.”

Todd Muller said that the breach was “quite staggering, it talks to a government that’s slipping off the side of a cliff, in terms of managing this issue, the border, the information pertaining to it. If they manage personal information, bluntly, they cannot manage the border and they cannot manage the country. From the National Party’s perspective, it was “unacceptable” and they would see where it ended up,” he said.

Mr Muller asked if it was a deliberate leak or was it accidental?

“It does not really matter at a level … it is loose, it is shabby and it is a reminder that these guys cannot manage important things well. These guys need to step aside and let a competent government take over,” he said.

Sloppy and undisciplined

Mr Muller would wait to see “how it all unfolded,’ but said that it talked to a culture within the government which was “pervasive.”

“Sloppy, not disciplined, not focused on delivering.”

National Party Health Spokesperson Michael Woodhouse (RNZ Photo by Richard Tindiller)

National Party Health Spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said this was “yet another serious failing” that showed the government was not capable of managing Covid-19.

“This is unconscionable and unacceptable that those suffering from the incredibly dangerous virus now have to suffer further with their private details being leaked,” he said.

He said that the government needed to get to the bottom of the source of the leak, and added that “keeping confidential information confidential should not be a difficult task.”

“The Ministry of Health have been assuring people since the beginning of the epidemic in New Zealand that personal details would remain private, it’s unfathomable that they could not handle a simple task like this,” Mr Woodhouse said.

Jane Patterson is Political Editor at Radio New Zealand. The above Report and Pictures have been published under a Special Agreement with

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