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IRD in latest privacy breach blunder

Published: 7:25PM Sunday October 28, 2012 Source: ONE News

A second big Government department has been forced to acknowledge a staggering privacy blunder in just as many days.

Today the Inland Revenue Department admitted it had breached the privacy of thousands of its clients. And to make it worse, most of those affected will not be aware their information has been compromised.

The figures, which have been released exclusively to ONE News, even took Revenue Minister Peter Dunne by surprise.

It comes just a day after ACC was embroiled in another privacy scandal , in which it sent details of a client's criminal history to someone else.

ONE News viewers Ross Muir and his wife recently received a nasty shock in the mail - a letter from IRD with confidential tax details in unsealed envelopes - and contacted ONE News worried about their privacy.

Ross said he was "quite upset" by the discovery.

"It's not the sort of information you would like shown to anybody else," he said.

On further investigation ONE News reporter Georgina Ball  discovered that in the past year, the IRD has breached the privacy of almost 6400 New Zealanders, in 32 separate incidents.

For 638 people the breach was so serious that IRD was forced to put security measures in place to protect them from identity theft.

However, the department failed to tell the 5741 others that they were victims, because it did not consider the breaches serious enough.

The number is so large it shocked the man in charge, Revenue Minister Peter Dunne.

"I was concerned to find that number," he admitted.

"As I say, any breach to me is a matter of concern.

"We've got to tighten up to make sure that we have no incidents."

IRD holds a mountain of information - including private details concerning earnings and tax, Kiwisaver, family tax credits, child support and student loans - about almost every New Zealander.

"People trust the IRD with their very, very personal information, their income and so on, and of all the Government agencies I would expect IRD to be the most concerned to make sure it maintains that trust," said associate professor Gehan Gunasekara, a privacy expert at Auckland University Business School.

IRD bosses refused an interview request, and instead issued a written statement to ONE News.

In it the department said it is improving email security and has reminded staff to take extreme care.

It said the breaches are just a small proportion of its many millions of transactions.

However, Labour said this latest privacy blunder to hit the Government shows it is not taking the issue seriously.

"These numbers show that there's a systematic failure across Government and that's shocking," said Labour's revenue spokesman, David Clark.

"This Government is not taking our privacy seriously."

If you think the IRD has breached your privacy, contact Georgina Ball on Georgina.Ball@tvnz.co.nz

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