Collecting data is coercion, says NZAC
Coercing the country’s most vulnerable people into sharing personal data in return for receiving assistance fails to
ensure they are well cared for, says the NZ Association of Counsellors (NZAC).
The Ministry of Social Development’s (MSD) demands for clients’ names, birthdates, ethnicity and the personal details of
any dependents under contracts will take effect from July.
More than 800 groups including sexual violence and counselling services will provide private client information in
exchange for funding.
But Privacy Commissioner, John Edwards, argues in his recently released report
that such a policy would deter people from seeking help.
Mr Edwards launched an inquiry into the policy in January, stating today that the plan was “excessive and inconsistent
with the privacy principles”.
Additionally, he called into question MSD’s requirement for the data as the government department has not yet explained
its purpose for such information.
NZAC spokesperson, Rhonda Pritchard, says clients who seek help through counselling services do so because they are
experiencing daily distress that is difficult to share with others.
“It is because this help is offered in a private situation that they are willing to come at all. Clients are willing to
engage with a particular person they trust. Sharing their personal information with a government institution erodes that
bond and will likely keep them away.
“Requiring clients to consent to their individualised information being collected by MSD in order to receive help
constitutes coercion, and is a breach of the NZAC Code of Ethics which counsellors who are members must observe.”
The Privacy Commissioner’s report recommends MSD ensures its information collection practices do not deter vulnerable
individuals from receiving necessary help.
It adds that the government considers how it can meet policy objectives in ways “that infringe less on personal privacy
and reduce the risk of unintended adverse consequences for New Zealand’s most vulnerable people.”
Convenor of the NZAC Ethics Committee, Sue Webb, says clients cannot give fully ‘informed consent’ when they do not know
the exact purpose of their record.
Te Aranga Hakiwai, representative of the NZAC Maori Roopu, echoes her sentiments and questions the validity of the data
knowing the government’s purpose for it.
“I see inherent risks in translating data to population demographics as it could form the basis for the stigmatisation
and moral opprobrium towards those people(s) most likely to access assistance.”