20 Feb 2017

Security guards seeing personal info of WINZ clients

11:59 am on 20 February 2017

Guards outside Work and Income offices are in another stoush over a security clampdown - this time complaining they're being forced to break the law and breach people's privacy.

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Photo: supplied

They say the appointment letters they have to check contain personal details like how much debt someone might have.

The security guards have to vet people wanting to get into WINZ offices as part of the tighter rules brought in after two staff were shot and killed at the Ashburton office in 2014.

Since mid-January beneficiaries have had to show ID and guards last week complained they were having to act as receptionists rather than getting on with their real job of spotting potential risks.

Now they say the appointment letters they have to check are also a problem.

Their union spokesperson Jill Ovens said they were on the receiving end of too much information - about bond or rent arrears, food assistance and car repairs.

She insisted access to that level of information was illegal.

"They are finding out details about why the person is going to the WINZ office which they don't think is appropriate.

"That's true, it is not appropriate."

Ms Ovens said information about clients should not be viewed by security guards in the street.

"It's not their job," she said.

"Such information should be kept secure in files within the WINZ office."

Ms Ovens said Work and Income tried having concierges at the door to welcome and manage arrivals but has chosen to have contracted security guards instead.

"I suspect they did that because anyone employed directly by Work and Income would be on a much higher salary than the guards who are on minimum wage."

The Ministry of Social Development replied its security officers should have been aware of their obligations under the Privacy Act and that what they were doing was legal.

"We have been working very closely with Armourguard to make sure their staff understand the new guidelines and get up-skilled," said spokesperson Kay Read.

"This includes ensuring MSD staff and our contracted security personnel are fully aware of their obligations under the Privacy Act, including using any private information provided strictly for the purposes for which it is required."

The Assistant Privacy Commissioner, Joy Liddicoat, said the security guards were not breaking the law.

"Obviously they can't, for example, take a copy of that photo ID and then share it with somebody else who's got nothing to do with WINZ or their employer, that would be unlawful" she said.

"Seeing that information for the purpose for which they're collecting it and using it only for that purpose certainly fulfils their obligations under the Privacy Act."

Ms Liddicoat said if security guards were worried about being given too much information they should check with Work and Income what exactly people needed to give them to be allowed in.

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