Top lawyer to probe Covid-19 privacy breach

Former solicitor-general Mike Heron will lead the probe into a serious Covid-19 privacy breach.

It comes after the New Zealand Herald reported the breach, which contained details of 18 confirmed Covid-19 cases, ranging from a 30-year-old woman in Auckland to a 70-year-old man in Canterbury.

Newly appointed Health Minister Chris Hipkins - who promised to leave "no stone unturned" when it comes to the investigation - joined Prime Minister Ardern at her post-cabinet press conference this afternoon.

Hipkins said his message to all involved was clear: New Zealanders have a right to know their information will be safe.

"The public release of this information is wrong."

He said there are "a number of potential theories" about how the information was released. But he wasn't willing to elaborate on any of these.

Hipkins said he has not been in touch with the people who had their information leaked. Officials involved have looked at how this information was stored to make sure it can't happen again.

Heron's report will be back in "a matter of weeks, not months."

Hipkins said how many people who had access to such a list will be looked at. The Government is still not aware of what format the information was released it - for example, if it was hard copy or online.

"We will be looking very closely at that."

There are other ministries involved other than the Ministry of Health, Hipkins said.

He said he was first made aware of the issue on Friday last week, when he was alerted to the issue by media.

"Our primary concern to is find out what happened."

He promised the Government would "get to the bottom" of how this information was made public. "This is a serious matter."

Ardern said the leak was not political "at all".

Hipkins said the Government was handling the issue with "a great deal of importance".

"We will do everything we can to get to the bottom of it."

ACC levies on ice

The Prime Minister said Accident Compensation Corporation levies will remain at the same level until 2022 and this will help levy payers in the "current environment".  It will cost the Government $278 million this year.

Ardern said that New Zealanders can be assured that ACC is still in solid shape.

ACC Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the most important thing is that it gives certainty to businesses.

He said ACC has been clear that it's hard to get the data to predict what the 2022 levies would look like.

Today's move will help give their analysis more time to figure this out.

Asked about cutting levies, Lees-Galloway said the Government was "striking a balance".

Investigation into leak

Newly appointed Health Minister Chris Hipkins promised to leave "no stone unturned" when it comes to the investigation.

The New Zealand Herald reported a massive breach of privacy which contained details of 18 confirmed Covid-19 cases, ranging from a 30-year-old woman in Auckland to a 70-year-old man in Canterbury.

It included the personal details of a man in his 30s receiving care in Auckland City Hospital.

The leaked spreadsheet, sent to three media outlets, also shows which border facility the Covid-positive people were staying in when they tested positive and where they were moved for quarantine.

Hipkins asked the State Services Commission - another portfolio he is responsible for - to work with the relevant agencies to ensure a thorough investigation.

He said the Ministry of Health advised him that it cannot be confirmed beyond doubt whether the leak was deliberate, or simply human error.

"If it was the former, it is unconscionable and absolutely beggars belief why anyone would feel it was an acceptable action to take, given the trauma it is likely to cause those whose information is involved."

If this was the case, criminal charges could be on the table.

 

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