Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"Implied consent"

In Question Time today, the opposition began excavating Social Development Minister Paula Bennett's appalling information thuggery. The Herald's headline on the matter says it all about what a shallow lightweight thug the Minister is: Bennett: I consulted website before releasing mums' benefits:

Paula Bennett has this afternoon told Parliament that, apart from reading the Privacy Commission's website, she did not seek any advice before releasing personal details about the benefits received by two solo mothers.

Ms Bennett told Parliament that guidelines for ministers on the Privacy Commissioner's website allow people to give "implied consent" for their details to be released.

The website in question is here. And what it makes very clear is that in such circumstances Ministers should disclose no further information, and that if the public is not getting the full story, merely say that there are undisclosed facts and publicly ask for permission to release them. Consent to disclosure can only be implied if the individuals concerned ask specifically through the media for a public response on their particular case (and even then, it can only be claimed for information directly relevant to the particular decision in question). It cannot be claimed where people are criticising a general policy, rather than asking for reasons in their particular case. It certainly cannot be claimed, as Bennett suggests, simply because someone is criticising the government.

Bennett has seriously abused her powers here, resulting in a significant breach of privacy and a serious attack on freedom of speech. This is simply not acceptable in a government Minister. If Bennett does not apologise, then she needs to be relieved of her portfolio. And if the Prime Minister indulges this bullying behaviour, then he needs to be relieved of his at the next election.

More at KiwiPolitico and The Standard.