Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Unaccountable surveillance at WINZ

Speaking of surveillance: last month we learned that WINZ was monitoring beneficiaries' social media in an effort to detect fraud. Its intrusive, invasive snooping, akin to stalking someone in public and peeking through their windows. So what are the rules around this, and how often does it happen? Someone used FYI, the public OIA request system, to ask. The response? Of course not:

The Ministry does not have a formal policy to monitor social media. Your request is refused under section 18(e) of the Official Information Act as this information does not exist.


The Ministry does not record and report instances where an individual's activity on their social media accounts, blogs or online presence is monitored or checked. As such this part of your request as well as the cost of social media monitoring is refused under section 18(e) of the Official information Act as this information does not exist.

We've seen this attitude before: the police routinely demand highly intrusive information, including social media and text messages, emails, and long-term tracking information - using production orders. And yet they don't bother even to count how often they do it.

Government surveillance needs to be lawful, proportionate and justifiable. And if any government body uses it, they should be required to have a formal policy on its use so that legality and proportionality can be assessed, and track how often it is used, so that we can see if it is over-used. Refusal to do immediately suggests over-use, and a lax attitude towards the public's right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure.