29 Mar 2013

Minister defends EQC after second privacy breach

3:26 pm on 29 March 2013

The minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission (EQC) is defending the organisation following the revelation of a second big privacy breach within a week.

Gerry Brownlee confirmed on Thursday a spreadsheet containing 2200 names and information regarding about $23 million worth of cheques that had not been cashed were wrongly sent to a Christchurch man.

The man received the spreadsheet about a month ago but only contacted the commission earlier this week.

When he did not get a response, he contacted Lianne Dalziel, the Labour Party MP for Christchurch East, who revealed the breach in Parliament on Thursday.

The revelation follows a privacy breach on 22 March in which the details of 83,000 Canterbury claimants were mistakenly sent to an insurance advocacy company.

Gerry Brownlee has ordered all of the commission's external email systems to be shut down while the system is investigated.

The minister said he is "deeply sorry" about the breaches but pointed out the commission has 466,000 claims to deal with and people want them done quickly, which creates the kind of problems that have occurred.

EQC chief executive Ian Simpson says he is devastated by another breach.

"We moved as quickly as we possibly could to address the issues that came around last week. But clearly, more dramatic steps are required.

"It's not acceptable that our customers and my staff are placed in this situation."

Mr Simpson says staff treat privacy as a very serious matter.

Liane Dalziel says it is appropriate that the email service has been shut down while an investigation takes place, but the latest breach is a warning for EQC to get things sorted.

The email service would be reinstated next week at the earliest, the commission said.

Recruitment warning

The head of a recruitment company says the Earthquake Commission needs to keep a close eye on its hiring, training and management to prevent more breaches.

Twenty-two people worked for EQC before the Canterbury earthquakes, which began in 2010, but staffing levels have swelled to more than 1500.

Select Recruitment managing director Karen Bardwell says it has become increasingly difficult to hire workers in Christchurch due to high demand for the rebuild.

Ms Bardwell says those factors mean that EQC has had to lower its bar for competency.

She says the commission needs to have robust training and good micro-management to prevent staff who fall under that bar making mistakes such as the recent privacy breaches.