29 Mar 2013

EQC email systems shut down over new breach

6:37 am on 29 March 2013

All of the Earthquake Commission's external email systems were being shut down on Thursday night in the wake of another big privacy breach.

The Government has confirmed a spreadsheet containing 2200 names and information about $23 million of cheques that not had been cashed were wrongly sent to a member of the public.

The minister responsible for the EQC, Gerry Brownlee, says he's deeply distressed about the newest breach and steps are being taken to resolve the problems.

He says the recipient of the email advised the EQC through its online complaints system that the information had been sent in error but the email was either not seen or not acted on.

Mr Brownlee says that is unacceptable.

He says in response the Government has required the EQC to immediately shut down its external email system so it will not longer receive or send emails.

As well, it has to shut down its business-to-business systems and any data exchanges with other parties.

Mr Brownlee says the Government's chief information officer, Colin MacDonald, will look at the information management at the EQC.

Recipient contacted Labour after no response

The Christchurch man who received the spreadsheet says he still has the information and the EQC has not asked him to destroy it.

The man, who only wants to be known only as John, told Radio New Zealand he has not been contacted by the commission, despite news of the breach breaking in Parliament on Thursday afternoon.

John was sent the spreadsheet by the EQC a month ago but says he forgot about it until last Friday when the commission admitted to emailing details of more than 80,000 clients to an outside company.

He says he contacted the commission website this week but got no response so contacted Christchurch East Labour MP Lianne Dalziel, who raised the breach in Parliament.

Ms Dalziel says it's proof there is a systemic problem with EQC and other government agencies' handling of data.

She says the Government doesn't have a commitment to protecting New Zealanders' data.

"This is over 2000 people's names ... the amounts of their cheques that have been sent by EQC not yet presented; amounting to over $23 million. This is huge, and all of that personal information was sent to one person."

John says he deals with property owners daily who are frustrated with the commission and that two years after the quake it is working too slowly.

However, he says forcing EQC chief executive Ian Simpson to resign would not help.

EQC head apologises

The commission says Mr Simpson has spoken with John, and has personally apologised about not dealing with the matter earlier.

Earlier, the commission said it had yet to contact John, saying the information it gave him was not as sensitive in his hands as last Friday's breach.

It said because he got in touch about it, it had more confidence he would not pass it on.

Last Friday information about more than 83,000 Canterbury earthquake claims was accidentally mailed to a person outside the EQC, Bryan Staples.

Mr Staples runs Earthquake Services, an insurance advocacy company for people dealing with claims.

The commission immediately got Mr Staples to sign a statutory declaration promising to destroy the email.

But he said on Thursday he was prepared to use the information in a dispute with the commission over payments.