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New Zealand

MSD spied on beneficiaries - Privacy Commissioner

Newshub logoNewshub 5 days ago Katie Fitzgerald, Lauren Paddy

Ministry of Social Development (MSD) employees spied on beneficiaries, an investigation by the Privacy Commissioner has revealed.

It revealed overly broad, disproportionate or inappropriate requests were being made of individuals.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards told Newshub third parties were also involved.

"We found that they were asking for very personal information from telecommunications companies and the like, getting actual text messages and even intimate photographs, which we were quite disturbed by."

In one case, an intimate picture sent to a partner was produced at an interview - and the beneficiary was asked to explain.

"I don't want to see somebody brought in for an interview and shown an intimate photograph that they themselves have sent by text to a partner and that the ministry has obtained," Edwards said.

He called the practice intrusive and excessive and called for change.

"In a criminal investigation there's no way you could get information at that level of sensitivity and privacy without some sort of judicial oversight."

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokesperson Ricardo Menendez March also called for change, as well as an apology from Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni and MSD deputy chief executive for service delivery Viv Rickard.

"The report should also be a wake-up call for the Government to amend the Social Security Act and stop punishing people in the welfare system for being in a relationship," Menendez March said.

"Currently the married benefit rate is lower than two individual benefit rates, and people on the benefit in a relationship with someone who earns above a certain threshold are expected to forgo all financial independence as they lose their benefit entitlements."

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