20 Oct 2022

MBIE tight-lipped over not consulting Privacy Commissioner on using spy firm Cobwebs

7:45 am on 20 October 2022
Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment says its use of Cobwebs is strictly limited. (File photo) Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Officials are refusing to say why they did not consult the Privacy Commissioner over their use of a private overseas spy company.

An OIA request by RNZ forced Immigration New Zealand to admit it has hired Israeli-US firm Cobwebs Technologies to scan people's social media.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) would not say why it did not consult over its privacy impact assessment on Cobwebs.

It also refused to say what details it was now giving the Privacy Commissioner, who last week belatedly asked for assurances the spying is lawful.

The ministry did not respond about how, during the two years in which its use of Cobwebs has been secret, people could have exercised their right under privacy law to ask what data is being gathered on them.

"While MBIE is supporting the Office of the Privacy Commissioner with its request, MBIE does not have comment to make on the nature of the detail we are providing at this time," it said.

Its use of Cobwebs was strictly limited, MBIE said.

The Security Intelligence Service (SIS) also checks the details of tens of thousands of people travelling from abroad each year and raises risks with Immigration.

However, the SIS is subject to independent oversight by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS).

IGIS told RNZ it had "no jurisdiction over Immigration New Zealand".

Immigration has blanked out all information about what it is spending on Cobwebs.

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