Concerns were raised as recently as 2017 about sensitive information relating to historic claims from state wards sitting in public view at Archives NZ.
The Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Education and Archives NZ have confirmed they were aware of sensitive records being publicly available during the time period identified by a whistleblower concerned over privacy breaches.
The admission shows the agencies responsible for the sensitive information were aware issues existed before the Herald walked off the street and accessed personal and sensitive information about state wards.
The confirmation follows Internal Affairs minister Tracey Martin, who is in charge of Archives NZ, describing the privacy breach as a "historic issue".
A spokesman said she was seeking more information after a Herald story today quoted a whistleblower who had raised concerns over privacy breaches while working as a government researcher on Archives NZ files.
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It comes as new and potentially significant quantities of files have been removed from public view at Archives NZ as fresh inquiries discovered further private information sitting in the open.
Some of our largest government departments with the most sensitive information have been reviewing information held at Archives NZ this week after the Herald identified an extensive privacy breach.
The Herald was able to access and copy private details of state wards in children's homes from the 1950s through to the 1980s because files had been incorrectly classified.
The information wasn't held in personal case files but scattered through a range of administration files, including one labelled "miscellaneous".
Archives NZ has about 85,000 files labelled "miscellaneous".
It led to Archives NZ taking the unprecedented step of suspending access to a slew of material until it could be examined by the agencies responsible for the material.
A whistleblower came forward after the Herald exposed the privacy breach, saying she had raised concerns repeatedly between 2015 and 2018 while researching historic claims for a major government department.
Acting GM Archives NZ Johanne Spring confirmed concerns had been raised about sensitive information being available and it had responded by suspending access, telling the agency which sent the files and changing access if needed.
No further details were provided.
We have asked Archives New Zealand to restrict these records series and are now waiting for confirmation.
Spring rejected a question over any systemic issue at Archives NZ, saying it was not responsible for access to the contents of the seven million records it held.
Instead, she said the classification level was the responsibility of the agency which submitted the material.
Ministry of Education deputy secretary Zoe Griffiths confirmed it had identified "sensitive documents with insufficient classification" during work on historic claims.
"In these cases we changed the restriction status as appropriate, or passed our concerns on to the responsible agency."
She said the ministry was currently reviewing records it held and restricted access to all files at Archives NZ until that work was done.
Social development chief executive Stephen Crombie said it had reviewed files held by Archives NZ after the Herald identified issues which had led to requests for new access classifications.
Crombie said an analysis of files had identified two series of records which warranted restriction because they were likely to hold private information.
A series of records describes linked files which could contain few or hundreds of sets of documents.
"We have asked Archives New Zealand to restrict these records series and are now waiting for confirmation."
He confirmed MSD had previously been notified about private material sitting in public view.
Crombie said it had been notified by the whistleblower's manager on three occasions in 2017 of files which were wrongly classified.
"In all three cases we acted on those warnings the same day, asking Archives to immediately restrict access to the files and the series that they were a part of."
He said there was no record of any systemic issue being raised with MSD and did not respond to a question as to whether MSD had identified such an issue itself.
The three cases which MSD had identified involved a rolling series of discoveries of personal information from February 2017 through to May 2017.
Issues were raised about five files which led to series of records being restricted as further issues were discovered.
In each case, MSD asked Archives NZ to apply access restrictions on the day it was notified by another government department.
Crombie said concerns raised with MSD were not passed to Oranga Tamariki as it had only just been set up in April 2017.
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said he was keeping watch on the developing situation and was considering greater involvement.
He said the privacy breach was significant but was concerned former state wards, and others, would have concerns their personal case files had been open for access, which was not the case.
Edwards said it was also important for those concerned about personal information being exposed to understand only a limited number of people had accessed the material.