Hooray – a victory for privacy!

The Government has scrapped plans to require community organisations to hand over personal client details to Government in return for funding. Many people told the National Government that this was a bad idea; social service organisations, the sexual and domestic violence sectors in particular, and the Privacy Commissioner to name a few. They were concerned that the information was not necessarily secure (it was being stored in Excel spreadsheets). They were also concerned that the reasons stated for collecting the data were unclear and often contradictory, but at the heart of many people’s concerns was the knowledge that people would be discouraged from accessing help if their confidentiality couldn’t be guaranteed.

Almost all of our domestic and sexual violence agencies are struggling financially after years of stagnant funding/increased demand for services/increased awareness of the need to develop new services for groups previously not provided for. Providers of support to male survivors of sexual violence, as an example, had told me how difficult it is for men to seek help, and how they often do so anonymously. This isn’t unique to them. It is very common for people to seek help anonymously, at least in the first instance.

Requiring agencies to provide personal information as a condition of their contracts would have meant important agencies, like the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust, would have had to choose to either provide people with the service they need and not get any government funding, or risk losing most of their clients to get the money to develop. It would have been a lose-lose – for all of us.

I challenged this policy in Parliament and initiated a petition to support those community voices against it, so it is a wonderful day to see it being thrown in the rubbish bin where it belongs. Thank you to everyone who raised their voice against this policy. It’s wonderful to see the new Government respecting the knowledge of our community agencies and reasserting the right of New Zealanders to access help confidentially. Well done Minister Sepuloni!