Speaker suggests solutions for MPs' email issues

7:11 pm on 14 September 2016

Parliament's email system has created a conflict between information security and the right of politicians to freely use information, the Speaker of the House says.


Speaker David Carter says he will discuss solutions to the email security issue with Parliamentary Services. Photo: Pixabay

Labour MP Chris Hipkins complained to the Speaker, David Carter, yesterday after realising his emails were being screened and blocked.

Mr Carter told Parliament today the issue arose because everyone with a parliamentary email address had their email scanned by the system, SEEMail.

"SEEMail is primarily used by ministers and their departments who need secure encrypted communication, but it currently applies to everyone with an parliament.govt.nz email address.

"It blocks any email with a SEEMail security classification being sent to someone without that classification."

Mr Carter said SEEMail prevented classified information being inadvertently sent to unintended recipients.

"Mail filters look for the words SEEMail, restricted, sensitive, or in confidence, which are attached to the documents at the choice of the sender. It then applies encryption to the email, and attachments, before sending them."

Mr Carter said he had been given an absolute assurance that Parliamentary Service's email system did not scan MPs' emails, other than for spam filtering, viruses and SEEMail classifications.

Mr Carter said members must be able to send and receive information freely and he had five possible solutions to the problem, including MPs removing the SEEMail classification themselves, or ministers could tell their departments not to use it on certain emails.

He said he would discuss the solutions with the Parliamentary Service.

More emails blocked

Mr Hipkins sought further reassurance after further emails he attempted to send, discussing this matter yesterday, were also blocked.

"So I was unable to answer any questions about the matter that arose yesterday, because the system picked that up and blocked me from doing so.

"I had to print the email and hand-deliver it in order for the journalist to be able to receive it - that's unacceptable and I want some reassurance that in the intervening period that will be stopped," Mr Hipkins said.

The Speaker replied: "If the member would just have a careful look at the ruling, the very first solution I give to him is that he himself can remove the classification."

Chris Hipkins.

Labour's Chris Hipkins said since yesterday more of his emails had been blocked by Parliament's SEEMail email system. Photo: Supplied

Several years ago, the Privileges Select Committee considered how Parliamentary Service should handle MPs' communications and information, after it passed some of Peter Dunne's emails to a government inquiry.

Mr Dunne said, in principle, MPs' communications should never be interfered with.

"Constituents will send you their details on a confidential basis, if they've got particular problems they want you to sort out, and they do so because they've got the confidence that that material is not going to be shared more broadly.

"I think yesterday's revelations shatter that confidence and go to the core of a public trust issue."

In a statement, Parliamentary Service said MPs were free to send information as they chose.

"We have over 14 million emails passing through our systems every year and do not review

messages manually, and nor do we want to - that is not our role at Parliament."