Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Tracking agency clients 'not surveillance' - Govt

Associate Social Development Minister Jo Goodhew says new rules requiring community agencies to share client data with the Government are not "surveillance". Photo / File
Associate Social Development Minister Jo Goodhew says new rules requiring community agencies to share client data with the Government are not "surveillance". Photo / File

The Government has denied that requiring community agencies to hand over data about their clients amounts to "surveillance".

Associate Social Development Minister Jo Goodhew says community agencies such as women's refuges and budgeting agencies will only have to share specified "client-level data" with the Government as a condition for funding from next July.

"The collection of individual client-level data is most definitely not
'surveillance' in any way," she said.

"Only the client-level data that has been included in the contracts will be shared with Government.

"All providers will obtain consent from clients to do so. When obtaining written consent the providers will be able to assure clients that no wider detail will be passed on.

"The ministry [of Social Development] has robust procedures for gathering personal information, and has done so safely for a number of years, from a variety of sources. Any fears about the security of this data are unfounded."

She was responding to a claim by Council of Christian Social Services executive officer Trevor McGlinchey that the new policy was a step towards a "surveillance society" and would undermine people's trust in non-government agencies.

Green MP Jan Logie said today the new requirements, specified for the first time in new contracts for budgeting agencies, would undermine the independence of community agencies.

Green MP Jan Logie says new funding rules will undermine the independence of community groups. Photo / Ross Setford
Green MP Jan Logie says new funding rules will undermine the independence of community groups. Photo / Ross Setford

"The community sector is not an arm of Government for good reason," Logie said.

"The independence of the community sector is a strength, and to undermine that independence is a mistake.

"When people turn for help from community groups, they expect help, not a Government investigation of every aspect of their life."

Although women's refuges and other family violence agencies already share client information with Police and others locally, Logie said the new requirements to share client data nationally were about targeting state spending and would scare some people off seeking help.

"When Government privacy issues have proven time and time again to not be reliable or value personal privacy, it is hardly surprising that there would be suspicion of handing over further data," she said.

"Putting up barriers to people seeking support is detrimental to the point of community services. The community sector is accountable to the community, but the Government is trying to shift the goalposts so that they have all the power."

But Goodhew said the Government had to ensure that the services it funded were effective and reached the most vulnerable people.

"In order to get positive long-term results for the clients of community providers, the government needs to collect this data," she said.

"The taxpayer expects us to spend their money carefully, and to get the best results for the most vulnerable New Zealanders."

- NZ Herald

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