Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Labour questions Key's access to emails

David Henry's inquiry into a leaked report was provided with information about the movements of a journalist in and out of parliament. Photo / NZPA
David Henry's inquiry into a leaked report was provided with information about the movements of a journalist in and out of parliament. Photo / NZPA

Labour is questioning the reach of John Key into ministerial emails after being informed that his chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, has requested details of email traffic in ministerial offices on three occasions when he suspected leaks of information.

Labour also says the Parliamentary Service overstepped its boundaries by releasing information about the movements of Press Gallery journalist Andrea Vance taken from parliamentary security cameras to the David Henry inquiry into a leaked report.

In response to questions from Labour deputy leader Grant Robertson, the Prime Minister's office says Mr Eagleson requested information on email traffic in 2010, 2011 and in May this year.

The May request was in relation to an email sent by someone in the Prime Minister's Office itself - it was not connected to David Henry's inquiry into the leak of a report into the GCSB spy agency, a spokeswoman for Mr Key said.

United Future leader Peter Dunne was forced to resign as a minister for refusing to hand over email exchanges with Andrea Vance who was leaked a copy of the report.

John Key's spokeswoman said yesterday that where the chief of staff was concerned about a breach of security relating to information involving staff, the process was that he requested from the general manager of Parliamentary Service a report on the electronic trail of a specific email to or from staff parliamentary email addresses.

"In the event that anything directly relevant is found, a report is provided to the chief of staff with the details of that, i.e. the metadata. It is then open to the chief of staff to request the content of staff emails."

She would not say which offices had been involved other than her own office for the latest request.

"Given the sensitive nature of these inquiries, and the fact that they can result in employment matters, the chief of staff does not disclose which issues and which ministerial offices may have been the subject of such requests."

She said Mr Eagleson could request the content of emails but had not done so. She said a rumour that the Prime Minister's chief press secretary kept tabs on emails to and from ministerial press secretaries was wrong. Mr Robertson said the cases of the emails and security information raised issues of what boundaries were operating in Parliament and the powers of the Prime Minister's Office in terms of email traffic.

"What are the boundaries of information being gathered and gained in these situations? I would like to know more about the extent of the information the Prime Minister and his chief of staff are able to access. I genuinely don't know."

When he worked as deputy chief of staff in Helen Clark's prime ministerial office, he was not aware of such a reach being used.

Neither the Prime Minister's Office nor Parliamentary Service would answer the Weekend Herald's questions about their reach into the emails of ordinary MPs who are not part of executive government.

Mr Robertson said he was shocked to learn that Parliamentary Service had given Mr Henry information about a journalist's movements.

He questioned whether Mr Henry had any powers to get the information given he was running an inquiry that was commissioned by departmental heads, without any statutory force.

"This raises very serious questions about how information about people who move in and out of this building is being handled and we need to clear it up."

Speaker David Carter said he was not asked for permission to hand over information on Vance or Peter Dunne collected by Parliament's security officers. He directed inquiries over "information ownership and authority" to Parliamentary Service.

Parliamentary Service spokeswoman Diana Wolken defended the decision to hand over material on Andrea Vance, a Fairfax journalist, to the Henry inquiry.

"The security system is used to protect members, staff, visitors and to protect assets, property and information. It also assists in the prevention, detection and reporting of security incidents and is an effective source of evidence following a security incident. In this instance, information was provided to the Henry investigation as it related to the security of information that was held on the precincts."

Mr Dunne said Mr Henry had sought permission to access his movements on certain days and he gave it "under duress".

Mr Henry had told him some details of Andrea Vance's movements in and out of Parliament - although he did not mention in his report that he had accessed such information.

Andrea Vance has made it clear that she was not asked.

Mr Dunne said security records should be protected unless they involved a matter of security or criminality. "This was neither of those categories."

Parliamentary Service said with respect to the David Henry investigation, Parliamentary Service provided a range of metadata that related to a number of ministers and staff. "The metadata was provided after the service was satisfied that ministers had agreed to co-operate with the investigation."

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 24 Oct 2014 21:40:21 Processing Time: 428ms