19 Dec 2018

McVicar sorry for Sensible Sentencing Trust's paedophile mistake

9:28 pm on 19 December 2018

The Sensible Sentencing Trust has has issued an apology to a man who it wrongly labelled as a convicted paedophile on its website.

Garth McVicar outside the Rotorua High Court. 27 June 2016.

Garth McVicar, founder of the Sensible Sentencing Trust. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

A trust volunteer posted the man's photo on its public database, after it was submitted by a member of the public, until the man found out and complained to the Privacy Commissioner.

The wrongfully accused man received online abuse and feared the accusation would impact on his business.

This evening the SST's founder Garth McVicar has issued a statement admitting the error.

He says they have put an apology in a school newsletter and have contacted some of the man's clients.

Mr McVicar says volunteers should have been given privacy training, which they will do from now on. They have since taken down the database, until they can check all the names.

In a release earlier today, the Privacy Commissioner said the SST had interfered with the man's privacy and caused him harm. The Privacy Commissioner said he was abused on social media and feared his tarnished reputation would damage his business.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust website

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The SST had uploaded the man's picture with a description of a convicted paedophile with a similar name on its 'Offender Database'. The picture was up for almost two years before the man found out and complained to the office of the Privacy Commissioner.

The picture had been provided to the SST by a member of the public and was uploaded by a volunteer without any steps to verify its accuracy, the Privacy Commissioner said.

The SST said they did not know who provided the photo or who uploaded it.

"Agencies must take reasonable steps to check that personal information is accurate before they use it," Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said.

"Relying on the assistance of unpaid volunteers does not excuse the SST of its legal obligations.

"The SST claims that the purpose of its 'Offender Database' is to protect the public from harm and help keep offenders accountable. In this case it has done the exact opposite.

"The magnitude of this error calls the SST's capabilities into question and raises concerns that the database may have contained other significant errors," Mr Edwards said.

Mr Edwards said he decided to publicly name the SST to warn the New Zealand public of its "continuously negligent, cavalier, and dangerous approach to privacy".