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MSD to review privacy protections in serious fraud investigations 

18 October 2018.

The Ministry of Social Development will review the best way to gather necessary information about high risk benefit fraud while balancing clients’ right to privacy.

Deputy Chief Executive Service Delivery Viv Rickard says the Ministry has committed to working with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) and beneficiary advocacy groups to review its Code of Conduct in relation to Section 11 of the Social Security Act.

"We’re very serious about protecting the privacy of our clients, but we also have a responsibility to investigate serious benefit fraud allegations in a fair and timely matter.

"We’re taking this step because concerns have been raised by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, and beneficiary advocates, and it is timely to look at our current practice in line with our commitment to clients on privacy matters."

OPC has informed the Ministry it will be inquiring into whether it’s application of Section 11 infringes on a person’s privacy.

Under Section 11 of the Act, in high risk fraud cases, the Ministry generally approaches third parties to obtain information and documents without notifying the person being investigated first, or approaching them for information. This is under a provision that allows the Ministry to do so, as to do otherwise could prejudice the maintenance of the law.

"When we initiated the practice in 2012 we consulted with OPC and understood their view was the Code’s implementation was an operational matter for MSD," Mr Rickard says.

"The practice was made public at the time, and was introduced as part of a range of anti-fraud reforms that were a key focus of the Government of the time. This change was introduced because approaching people directly for information first was delaying investigations, and only yielded the information requested in five percent of cases.

"As an organisation we’ve made a commitment to our clients to respect their privacy through our recently launched new client commitment and to be clear about how we use and share their information through programmes like our Privacy Human Rights and Ethics framework.

"We want to ensure we have the right balance of enabling timely and thorough investigation with fair and appropriate procedures while safeguarding people’s privacy. We welcome working with both OPC and advocates on this."

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