Data demand "excessive and disproportionate"

The Privacy Commissioner, John Edwards, has released the report of his inquiry into MSD’s policy linking funding of social services to the supply of individual client data. He describes the demand for client data as "excessive and disproportionate" and concludes that the policy is at odds with the Privacy Act.

The Privacy Commissioner notes in his report that there was a huge response from providers to his inquiry, with 548 taking part in the survey and many sending him letters and written submissions.

The inquiry findings reflect providers’ fears that the policy would deter some people from accessing much-needed support and assistance. “Not only could that put those people at further risk, and increase pressure on the NGOs, the ultimate result could be that those individuals become ‘invisible’ to Government and policy makers,” the report says.

Another main finding was the lack of a clear explanation of the purpose for requiring individuals and providers to hand over personal information.

As if to underline the Privacy Commissioner’s concerns, the report’s release coincided with another MSD security breach, with a provider able to view another provider’s portfolio.

Yet despite the Privacy Commissioner’s report, the Government plans to forge ahead with its data collection policy. Listen to the interview with the Minister of Social Development, Anne Tolley, on Morning Report.

She said providers would not be asked to upload information until the IT system was secure – which she acknowledged could be many months away – but in the meantime providers will be presented with the “no data, no funding” clause in this year’s contracts.

This will place providers in an invidious position, required by government to agree to carry out a process that the Privacy Commissioner says is inconsistent with the principles of the Privacy Act. SSPA and ComVoices will continue to make strong representations to Government to try and avert social service providers being placed in such an untenable position.

On behalf of ComVoices, Trevor McGlinchey of CCSS told the media that the Minister’s response is frustrating. The Privacy Commissioner’s Report, together with the failure of the MSD information portal, demonstrate that we should hold off implementing this process, he said.