26 September 2013


There is more fallout in New Zealand over the Kim Dot Com Affair, with the Parliament's Privileges Committee investigating the handling of personal information by Parliamentary Services as part of that entity's response to the Henry Inquiry into the unauthorised disclosure to Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance of the Kitteridge report regarding the Government Communications Security Bureau.

In April and May the Inquiry manager had sought -
  • All printing, copy and scan records for all Ministers that had access to the Kitteridge report (10 National Ministers, John Banks and Peter Dunne).
  • All printing, copy and scan records for senior staff in each of the 12 Minister’s offices, including SPS’s and Press Secretaries
  • email logs for external emails for the 12 Ministers and their staff for the date range 22 March to 9 April.
  • mobile phone billing records for 12 Ministers and their staff as well as staff from the Prime Minister’s office for 25 March to 9 April
  • all emails between Vance and Peter Dunne between 22 March and 9 April (dates provided in metadata rundown in email on 16 May at 3:24pm).
  • emails between Vance and one staff member from each of Adams, Finlayson, Tolley, PM’s offices.
  • phone records for Ministers and staff extensions for contact to and from two “numbers of interest” (Vance’s landline and mobile). Inquiry staff stated “Please note, we do not want the call logs of the two numbers of interest. That is outside the parameters of our Inquiry".
Parliamentary Services is essentially not covered by the Privacy Act.

In late July the Committee stated that
The Privileges Committee met this afternoon to consider how to proceed with its examination of the question of privilege that stands referred to it. 
The committee has been tasked with examining the particular incident involving the release of information from parliamentary information and security systems which led to the question of privilege being referred, and a more general issue about developing principles for the access to and release of information from parliamentary information and security systems. 
The committee has decided to commence its consideration by establishing the facts leading up to the referral of this question of privilege. The committee will be inviting evidence from those directly involved in this matter, and intends to hear that evidence publicly on 21 August 2013. Further evidence may be invited at a later date.
The initial referral to the Committee stated that
The exercise of intrusive powers against members threatens members’ freedom to carry out their functions as elected representatives and the House’s power to control its own proceedings and precincts, without outside interference. 
The release of information from parliamentary information and security systems relating to the movements of journalists within the parliamentary precincts has also been questioned. Although the media do not necessarily participate directly in parliamentary proceedings, they are critical to informing the public about what Parliament is doing and public confidence in Parliament. Actions that may put at risk journalists’ ability to report freely are a significant concern. 
The parliamentary precincts are also a workplace for both parliamentary employees and the employees of government departments. Access to parliamentary information and security systems data of any sort must, therefore, also have regard to the respective rights of employers and employees, and the role of the Speaker as a responsible Minister, and the Prime Minister and his ministers. 
I believe some sort of common understanding is required to ensure on the one hand that the functioning of the House and the discharge of members’ duties is not obstructed or impeded, but on the other that the maintenance of law and order and the ability to investigate and prosecute offences committed within the parliamentary precincts is preserved. 
The concerns raised are ones that should be looked at by the Privileges Committee. It is the body the House has established to investigate such matters. It has the power to hear evidence and formulate recommendations for the House that will provide guidance for the future.
The Committee is now considering -
  • Who gave the authority for personal information to be handed to the inquiry and what was the basis for their decision making? 
  • What principles should Parliament follow in releasing personal information? 
  • Should metadata, such as swipe card access records, be considered personal information in the same way the contents of emails and phone calls are? 
  • What Parliamentary protocols should be developed to manage the release of personal information in the future? 
  • Does the concept of ‘ownership’ of information have any relevance and should weight be given to individual consent?