Government's digital expert warns agencies about protecting people's data

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

The Government's chief digital officer has asked all Government departments and some connected agencies to ensure they're protected from a data breach.

The move comes after a string of incidents in Government departments which left people's personal details and confidential information exposed online.

Treasury, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, the Ministry of Health and the Commerce Commission have all been stung by internal or third party information breaches this year.

"I've asked all of the agencies to look at their own public-facing websites that might hold personal information and to check and assure themselves and then come back to me and assure me that they're doing so in a privacy compliant and secure way," Government Chief Digital Officer Paul James said.

The report-back was the result of the Tuia 250 data breach which saw applicant's personal documents published online.

He said the Government receives a large amount of private information daily and the public can have confidence in its management, with systems he describes as 'adequate' but with room for improvement.

"We're not where we want to be and we're not where we need to be, and that's one of the areas for focus, is those third parties," he said.

Earlier this week, a former contractor for the Commerce Commission had their laptop stolen, which contained over two hundred transcripts collected by the agency, and was not password-protected.

"The accountability is on the agency who is collecting, managing that information even if they're doing it through a third party, it's still their job to be maintaining the privacy and security of that," Mr James said.

Assistant Privacy Commissioner Jon Duffy agrees some aspects can be improved but said the recent spate of incidents is no higher that other years from the Government.

"If agencies allow their systems to become outdated, if they're not taking basic security precautions, then that's a cause for concern," he said.

He said the Government agencies who have been embroiled in data breaches this year have handled the response to the incidents well, with the focus on those affected by the leaking of personal information.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it's up to the private and public sector, as well as the public, to change their perspectives on dealing with information and private data.

"That's something we need to send a message around," Ms Ardern said.

"We need to ensure that information is secure from those who may seek to access both either the information or just to take the device, either way my expectation is no one can be cavalier about information."

This week Finance Minister Grant Robertson commented that it was "very, very disappointing" and "not acceptable" that this year's financial statements were published prematurely before the error was detected.

The inquiry into how Budget documents were accessed before the official release time on the Treasury website is due back before the end of the year.