Private investigators Thompson and Clark unlawfully accessed protestors' private information through motor vehicle register, Greenpeace claims

Paul Hobbs
Source: 1News

Controversial private investigators, Thompson and Clark are facing more flak.

There are calls from Greenpeace to prosecute the company for unlawfully accessing private information through the motor vehicle register (MVR).

Greenpeace Executive Director Russel Norman says: "Thompson and Clark are involved in this mass surveillance of protesters using access to this data base to identify people…. anyone that opposes oil companies or the Government's policy on climate change which is in my opinion an unlawful use of the register".

The MVR contains details of every vehicle and its owner. Details can be obtained by quoting a registration number plate.

1 NEWS has obtained figures from the NZTA under the Official Information Act that show a striking pattern. A spike in requests from Thompson and Clark to access the register coincides clearly with heightened activity from Greenpeace and other environmental groups.

For example in Jan/Feb 2013, the Rainbow Warrior was visiting New Zealand. In January 2014 there were extensive protests mounted when oil company Anadarko's drilling ship was in New Zealand waters.

Mr Norman says: "It's pretty plain that Thompson and Clark are using their access to the register as a kind of trawling tool to identify people who were involved in protest action".

While the MVR was once accessible to anyone prepared to pay a fee, since 2011 due to privacy concerns, only relevant groups like law enforcement agencies, car dealers, petrol stations and private investigators can access it, but with strict conditions.

Mr Norman says: "Thompson and Clark have got the right to access the register for very specific purposes like investigating criminal prosecutions".

He says accessing it to identify lawful protesters is not allowed. Nor can they pass that information onto a third party.

In March 1 NEWS revealed video of Thompson and Clark allegedly spying on Greenpeace as well as a trail of emails showing a close relationship between Thompson and Clark and a number of employees at MBIE. 

MBIE admits it's received newsletters from Thompson and Clark but refutes allegations from Greenpeace that those newsletters contain private information about environmental activists obtained through the motor vehicle register.

Thompson and Clark stopped accessing the register in April last year. NZTA won't say why but explain that often access is stopped when there has been inappropriate use.

NZTA says it would be up to the police to make a decision about prosecuting Thompson and Clark for any unlawful access or use of information in the register.

The maximum penalty is a $50,000 fine.

The Police say they haven't had any complaints brought to them over Thompson and Clark's use of the MVR.

Gavin Clark from Thompson and Clark has responded by saying: "The information we gathered was used as part of legitimate and lawful investigation work and no information was passed to third parties".

Mr Clark went onto say: "We followed the rules of access to the database. Our subscription to the database expired but we still have access to it on an ad-hoc basis".

A State Services Commission investigation launched in March into the relationship between Thompson and Clark and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is ongoing.