A Labour member complains

July 18th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

First let’s deal with the headline of the story:

Has the leak worked? Poll boost for Labour

The headline writer should be shot.

Labour has lifted by six points to its highest level since March 2014 in the Roy Morgan Poll.

Labour is up to 32 per cent in the poll – up six points from a fortnight ago while National was down six points to 43 per cent support.

However, the impact of Labour’s analysis of leaked Auckland real estate data remains unclear.

The poll of 886 voters began on June 29 and ended the day after Labour released that data on July 11.

So 90% of the poll was before the release. So the headline is trying to manufacture a story.

Onto the rest of the story:

The Herald revealed today that former Maori members’ chairman Shane Te Pou has written to the party demanding his personal data be removed from Labour’s database of home buyers, which it claims is the same information leaked from Barfoot & Thompson.

Te Pou cited the Privacy Act in the letter after being told by the estate agency that the purchase of his family’s house was likely among those used to bolster statistics purporting to show people in China were buying up New Zealand houses.

In revealing the statistics, Labour’s housing spokesman Phil Twyford tweeted: “People of Chinese descent bought 39.5% of houses sold by major (Auckland) real estate firm. This is foreign money.”

Te Pou is married to Annie Du, who is of Chinese ethnicity. He told the Herald his wife’s name was used to buy the family home during the period covered by Barfoot & Thompson sales data, obtained by Labour.

Te Pou wrote: “I am Maori. My wife is of Chinese descent. My money is not foreign.”

If I had purchased a house in Auckland, I’d be appalled that a political party had got hold of the data without permission.

A huge privacy breach

July 16th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The real estate agency employee who leaked the “confidential” sales data behind Labour’s Chinese house buying claims has been fired.

Barfoot & Thompson managing director Peter Thompson said a member of staff had leaked the information to the media and political officials.

The staff member’s contract has been terminated.

This is a huge privacy breach. If I was a house buyer, I’d be appalled that details of my purchase had been given to media and politicians.

I hope someone affected complains to the Privacy Commissioner.

Journalist or Author?

June 20th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A High Court judge has ruled that a book written by a New Zealand Heraldjournalist about internet tycoon Kim Dotcom is not “news activity” and does not get special legal protections.

The book’s author and media commentators fear the ruling could have a “chilling effect” on New Zealand journalism if reporters were unable to protect their sources.

Click here to read the ruling by Justice Helen Winkelmann.

Justice Helen Winkelmann handed down her ruling on Monday, stating that material gathered by Herald senior journalist David Fisher to write The Secret Life of Kim Dotcom: Spies, Lies and the War for the Internet can be accessed by New Zealand Police and the GCSB in their case against Dotcom.

I can’t say I’m surprised by this ruling. Otherwise it would have given some authors a special status that other authors do not have.

Dotcom’s lawyers argued that the book was based on material gathered in the newsmaking process and was therefore an exception under the Privacy Act.

However, Justice Winkelmann found books were not within the definition of news activity by a news medium acknowledged under the Privacy Act.

“…the writing and publication of a book cannot, at least in this instance, be construed as news activity,” the ruling said.

News activity was preparing and publishing articles.

“Investigative journalism takes its form in long, detailed articles, which are covered by the Act’s definition. Books, however, are not.”

I think there is a difference between journalism and writing a book. A journalist is generally working for a news source, and they don’t get paid based on the sales of the news medium. But an author publishes a book for profit, and that is the primary motivation of books – profit, not journalism. Nothing wrong with that, I say.

Fisher said the ruling could compromise journalism in New Zealand if sources believed their interviews could be obtained through the courts.

“I think the ruling has the potential to undermine the public’s confidence in a free press,” he said. “The impact of the ruling has a potential chilling effect on anyone who wants to deal with a journalist who is writing a book.

I would never assume that telling things to someone writing a book has the same journalistic protection as talking to someone writing for a newspaper etc.

Privacy law changes

May 29th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Judith Collins announced:

Significant improvements to our nation’s privacy laws will deliver stronger protections for New Zealanders’ personal information, Justice Minister Judith Collins announced today. …

Key proposals in the reforms include:

Mandatory reporting: Organisations will have to report data breaches to the Privacy Commissioner, and notify affected individuals in serious cases.

New offences and increased fines: Actions such as failing to notify the Commissioner of a privacy breach or impersonating someone to obtain their personal information will be illegal and carry a fine of up to $10,000. Existing maximum fines (for example, for obstructing the Commissioner) will increase from $2,000 to $10,000.

Enhanced powers: The Privacy Commissioner will have new powers, such as the ability to issue compliance notices. The Commissioner’s current power to independently decide to investigate a privacy issue will be enhanced.

Guidance and clarity: The Office of the Privacy Commissioner will provide more guidance about how to comply with privacy laws. Also, technical improvements to the Act will make it clearer and easier to understand.

Ms Collins says the reforms will ensure New Zealand privacy law reflects the digital age and brings us into alignment with our major trading partners.

Recognising the importance of the Privacy Commissioner’s role, the Government recently boosted the Office’s funding by $7 million over four years as part of Budget 2014.

I’m pleased to see the Government adopting the recommendations of the Law Commission. The offence to impersonate someone to obtain personal information is desirable. Also the mandatory breach notifications.

Will petitioners be spammed?

December 17th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Idiot/Savant blogs at No Right Turn:

Back when I was petitioning for the Keep Our Assets referendum, I discouraged people signing it from filling out the email address and phone number boxes because I did not trust the Labour Party (and specifically the Labour Party) not to abuse this information by using it for purposes other than the one it was collected for (“To keep up to date with the campaign”). 

I am not glad to have that suspicion confirmed.

To point out the obvious: this is a screaming violation of Privacy Principle 10, and possibly Privacy Principle 11 if you take the collecting agency as Roy Reid, the formal petitioner, rather than the parties who provided the footsoldiers. And it is grossly unethical. Quite apart from that, its also stupid, burning both potential supporters and their activist base (who may not be too keen on having their hard work perverted to violate people’s privacy).

As for what to do about it, firstly people have a right of access to information held about them by agencies – so if you gave the petition campaign your email address, you can always check with Labour to see if it has somehow migrated its way into their fundraising and supporter’s databases. And if the information is used, then I recommend lodging a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner. You should also publicise that complaint over social media (or, if you feel like it, by emailing a press release to Scoop – but social media is probably enough, because people like me will retweet it if we see it, and journalists will pick up an easy story like this). Political parties are (sensibly) afraid of bad publicity, and this is the best stick we have to enforce ethical behaviour on them. Sadly, it looks like we may have to use it.

Legally you will have no recourse as MPs are exempt from the definition of an agency under the Privacy Act, but you can publicly highlight any breaches.

So very wrong

September 7th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Phil Kitchin at Stuff writes:

Two victims of a serial paedophile fighting to keep his name secret will ask a judge to lift suppression of their names, as they join a legal battle to prevent the man getting compensation for an alleged privacy breach.

The women are furious that taxpayers will fund the Office of Human Rights Proceedings’ prosecution of the Sensible Sentencing Trust for revealing the predator’s name – but it won’t fund a lawyer to represent them.

One victim said she and fellow taxpayers were paying for a paedophile to continue “the abuse”, because he still denied his guilt, despite his multiple sex convictions.

It beggared belief that an independent office from within the Human Rights Commission was fighting to protect his privacy – and wanted him compensated – when no court record existed of him having final name suppression, the women said.

“He robbed me of my childhood and murdered my innocence,” one of them told The Dominion Post.

They believed the man was “cowardly” for trying to keep his name secret, saying paedophiles who did not admit their crimes usually reoffended, and there could be other victims who had not spoken to police.

“Robbers and murderers don’t get name suppression, so it’s just as important that these people are stopped,” one victim said. “He has no privacy – he gave up his right to privacy when he abused innocent young girls and was convicted in a court of law.”

The paedophile – who was earning about $150,000 a year in a chief executive role until he was outed – said in a sworn statement that he did not commit the crimes for which he was convicted in the mid-1990s and sentenced to a year’s jail.

If there is no court record of name suppression, I do not see how one can just assume the man had name suppression, and hence assume that the sensible Sentencing Trust have breached his privacy.

The EQC data breach

March 23rd, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Accidentally releasing the private information of almost 10,000 claimants is a “very embarrassing” mistake for the Earthquake Commission, Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker says.

How sensitive or private was this information?

EQC said in their release:

This morning information about 9700 claims, including claim numbers and street addresses, was inadvertently sent to one person outside EQC who was not the intended recipient.

The information sent did not include customer names. Most of the information would require knowledge of EQC’s internal workings in order to interpret it.

EQC chief executive Ian Simpson says EQC staff contacted the recipient as soon as the breach was identified. The recipient has agreed to destroy all the information.

I have to say it sounds at the lesser end of the scale. No names, just addresses and claim numbers.

Canterbury Community Earthquake Recovery Network spokeswoman Leanne Curtis said the breach was “unfortunate”.

“It’s unfortunate for the people involved, [EQC] staff included, but I think it’s not unknown to most of us to have sent email to the wrong person at some stage in our life,” she said.

“I think this is a really good lesson for them and I hope they learn from it,” she said.

I understand the problem was the e-mail client did an auto-complete, and it was the wrong name. One can turn auto-complete off but mistakes will happen. Maybe you can put in some system rules where any e-mail with an attachment sent t an external address generates a warning?

Christchurch city councillor Glenn Livingstone said the breach was a “great betrayal of trust”.

Oh, don’t be hysterical.

Livingstone said Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee should also take responsibility for the mistake.

It takes a special kind of politician to turn an accident from a staff member (that was immediately realised and notified, involved no names of people, and was immediately retrieved) into an issue of ministerial responsibility.

Speaking next week

April 26th, 2012 at 12:18 pm by David Farrar

For those interested, I’ve got three speaking engagements next week.

On Monday evening I’m speaking in Auckland on the MMP review to the National Party’s Northern Region Policy Committee. That is open to party members only.

On Tuesday I’m speaking at a forum organised by the Legal Research Foundation on media and new media regulation. This is also in Auckland and open to the public. There is a fee to attend.

On Wednesday I’m speaking at the “Privacy in the age of big data” forum, organised by the Privacy Commissioner. This is in Wellington and open to the public. Also a fee to attend.

A somewhat diverse range of subjects. Hence, blogging may be lighter than normal next week.

Privacy Act review

March 28th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Government plans to overhaul 20-year-old privacy laws following ”huge changes to technology”.

Justice Minister Judith Collins today announced the Government would repeal and re-enact the Privacy Act 1993 following a Law Commission report released last year, which made more than 100 recommendations.

“Our current privacy law has been in place for almost 20 years and predates the creation of the internet,” Collins said.

“Huge changes to technology and information flows have occurred during that time and they have overtaken our privacy laws.”

Collins said people were expecting more information to be available quickly and were more likely to share “private information”.

“The foundations of the Act are sound, but it needs to be updated to reflect our changing attitudes and the way people, business and government use information in the 21st century.”

The Justice Ministry was reviewing the Law Commission’s recommendations and would report back to the Government in September.

Further announcements about specific policy proposals would be made later this year, Collins said.

It is good that the act will be updated, as it is out of date. However I’d encourage people to take a keen interest in the law changes once they are known. Privacy is very important to people, but so is freedom of information and speech and sometimes the two may conflict. Getting that balance right is crucial.

Publishing names of drink drivers

August 19th, 2009 at 4:44 pm by David Farrar

Judith Collins continues to show very good instincts as a Minister. The Herald reported:

Police Minister Judith Collins says she will change the law if police and court staff fail to find a way of routinely making public lists of convicted drink-drivers.

The bureaucrats get so detail obsesses sometimes, they forget the big picture. They were basically saying a conviction is a personal private matter and should not be publicised unless a reporter actually happened to be in court during the hearing.

That was and is an outrageous view. Criminal convictions are not private matters. They are by their very nature public, unless a name is suppressed.

I actually think all convictions should be publicly available through a searchable database.

Her comments come after police yesterday rescinded a decision to stop releasing lists of convicted drink-drivers to media. The about-face came after Ms Collins met senior police staff on Monday and requested they re-examine the decision.

Requested. Ha. I bet you that is a polite word for it.

Police spokesman Jon Neilson said the issue of “ownership of information” was at the heart of the review.

As it stood at the moment, police laid charges with the court, but their involvement effectively ended with prosecution. The information belonged to the court, he said.

No convictions are not private property of the court. They are public information.

Three Editorials on Bennett

July 30th, 2009 at 11:55 am by David Farrar

Today we have no less than three editorials on Paula Bennett. First The Press:

The row over the release by the Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett, of personal information about the benefits received by two solo mothers is being milked by the Labour Party and their allies for all it is worth.

Which is hilarious for the hypocrisy. Anyone remember what Labour did to the whistle blower Erin Leigh? And they did it under parliamentary privilege so Leigh had little recourse.

The minister, for her part, has refused to browbeaten by all this hullabaloo. She has said she is prepared to talk to the two women at the centre of the row, but she does not admit she has done anything wrong and she is not going to apologise. Bennett is quite right to take this stand. The women had clearly put the matter into the public arena. The information the minister released was important to a proper understanding of the issue they had raised.

I agree.

The only legitimate criticism that could be made of the minister is that she was politically naive. If she had slyly slipped the information to the media, either directly or via some intermediary, as Labour apparently habitually did, this giant red herring of an issue would never have arisen.

It is interesting that no one from Labour has denied they used to release this sort of info, but did it privately not publicly.

The Dom Post says:

When the chattering classes start slavering about the actions of a cabinet minister, it is a brave politician who is prepared to fight her corner. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is such a politician.

Like the prime minister, she sometimes operates on gut instinct. It is risky. But it often works.

Even Willie Jackson was praising her on TV today (while saying he may disagree with her decision on this case).

This week, as Ms Bennett was being roundly condemned by political opponents and others for releasing the income details of two beneficiaries who dared criticise the Government, the minister stood her ground. Good on her.

Many New Zealanders believe she has done nothing wrong in breaching what they see as a politically correct convention that critics may take pot shots at the Government, and ministers won’t fight back. Not Ms Bennett.

And then:

For its part, Labour’s indignation is laughable. Most, if not all, of its former ministers practised the dark art of “briefing” political journalists about individuals in the headlines if they felt the full story wasn’t being told. Think Helen Clark and former police commissioner Peter Doone. Think former immigration minister Lianne Dalziel and the deportation of a Sri Lankan asylum-seeker.

I wonder if the Privacy Commissioner can investigate retrospectively?

The ODT is less supportive:

Ms Bennett can be damned for her actions for she seems not to comprehend to any degree that she went too far.

There is certainly an issue of political duty here to deflect Opposition sallies, but there is also a far more important one, of ministerial responsibility.

It is surely reasonable to suppose that no person applying for or in receipt of a state benefit ever expects to have the details of what is essentially a private matter between themselves and the department concerned displayed in a political stunt for all to see.

I disagree. Taxpayer funded benefits are not purely a private matter.

Mr Key may have hoped that his tyro minister would rapidly develop a safe pair of hands in a challenging portfolio, but her actions – which he might also have judged to strike a popular note among a target audience of National Party beneficiary bashers and others holding similar views – suggest Ms Bennett is in need of much more mature and experienced guidance about her judgement, and much less reliance on instinctive shooting from the lip.

The use of the term “National Party beneficiary bashers” makes me wonder who wrote this editorial. I suspect it is the staffer who used to be a spin doctor for Labour Ministers. Who else would use such a partisan term?

More on the welfare and privacy debate

July 30th, 2009 at 11:09 am by David Farrar

I have to say that I am gaining very very different impressions of the two women involved in the issue of the cutting of the TIA allowance and the release of their total income from taxpayers.

Jennifer Johnston has really impressed me with her sincerity, attitude and arguments. The Herald reports:

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has asked her officials to look into setting up a loan to help solo parents cover their extra study costs.

The suggestion came during a phone call yesterday to Jennifer Johnston, one of two solo mothers whose details she released after they spoke out about her decision to cut the Training Incentive Allowance for tertiary level courses. …

She said she would take Ms Johnston up on an offer to join her for coffee when she was next in Invercargill.

Ms Johnston said she also apologised to Ms Bennett. “I was pretty angry yesterday. I don’t bear her any ill will.”

She said Ms Bennett had listened carefully to her case but also made it clear she could not promise anything.

“I run a family, she runs a department, but my family has a budget just like her department and at times I have to make financial decisions that are unpopular. Sometimes the people I’m responsible for, my children, will come to me and say, ‘Mum, how about we do it this way?’ Sometimes I can compromise and sometimes I can’t – that’s the reality of having a budget. I don’t know what will come out of our conversation but at the very least I know my minister heard my concerns.”

She brushed off concerns about privacy, saying it was not hard to find out what level of benefits a woman in her situation would be entitled to.

I made a similar point on radio yesterday. Most benefit information is a matter of public record. You just can’t calculate it to the exact dollor without knowing what someone’s rent is etc.

But as I said, kudos to Ms Johnston for her positive advocacy and constructive suggestion re expanding loans, rather than a grant.

I have to say that things are rather murkier with Ms Fuller. First of all is the fascinating revelation that she had her benefit information disclosed by Labour in 2007:

The single mother who is taking Paula Bennett to the Privacy Commission for releasing her income details has had her income disclosed publicly before – by Labour in 2007 and by herself on a Trade Me message board last week. …

Ms Fuller listed some of her entitlements on a Trade Me message board under her user name thehappyhocker last week, before Ms Bennett provided the information to the Herald.

Good to see the media pick up on the Trade Me disclosures for they are very relevant.

Ms Fuller’s income had also been used by the Labour Party in 2007 as an example of the success of its policies. She said she had given permission for then social development minister David Benson-Pope to use the information after she set up a cleaning business with an enterprise allowance.

In his speech, Mr Benson-Pope lists her total support from the state as $180.50, including an accommodation supplement of $91, a family tax credit of $69.50, and another $20 a week from Working for Families.

What is especially interesting to me, is what links (if any) Ms Fuller has to Labour. Often people trumpeted by Labour as sucess stories are Labour Party members and activists. This may not be the case, but it often is. And it all comes down to whether there has been appropriate disclosure.

A thread started by Ms Fuller on the Trade Me message boards also has some alarming allegations in it. Also a huge amount of abuse (some from other people on the DPB) – enough to make a general debate thread on Kiwiblog look like a polite conversation.

Dave at Big News blogs on some of the allegations. They include claims of boasting on Facebook of spending $200 on CDs in a month etc. If the claims are correct, Labour may once again be regretting their choice of champion.

And in another thread he blogs on posts by Fuller where she admits to living with her partner while getting the benefit, and knowing what she did was wrong.

And for those who think this is Big Brother, all Dave has done is catalogue posts made voluntarily by Fuller on the Internet.

Bennett and the Privacy Act

July 29th, 2009 at 8:30 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is facing a complaint under the Privacy Act for disclosing the amounts two solo mothers have received in benefits – but last night she remained unrepentant.

One of the mothers said she will complain to the Privacy Commissioner after Ms Bennett provided the Herald with details of the state support she and another had received. The Labour Party also plans to lodge a complaint with the commissioner.

Ms Bennett disclosed the women’s weekly incomes after the pair – Natasha Fuller and Jennifer Johnston – objected to the Government’s decision to stop the Training Incentive Allowance for solo parents doing tertiary level study.

The statement that Fuller and Johnston merely “objected” to the decision doesn’t cover in fact what they were doing. This was not a case where they just gave their views for a newpaper story. I’ll return to this later. First what does the Privacy Commissioner say:

By releasing a large amount of personal information to the media, the individual is taking the risk that unfavourable publicity could result. If the Minister releases only information which is relevant to the issues raised by the individual, that person may not be able to claim that any particular harm was caused by the Minister’s disclosure rather than by the individual’s own disclosure. If the individual is not harmed, there would not be an interference with the individual’s privacy under section 66 of the Privacy Act.

So had Fuller and Johnston merely stated their view on the TIA decision, or were they putting out there a lot of personal informtion about themselves.

First there was the fullpage spread in the HoS. One quote is:

“The DPB is a living, for which my children and I have been very grateful. But it does not afford an ability to save for these sorts of extra expenses.

How can the public judge whether or not there is an ability to save, unless you know how much welfare is being paid to the person. This was a clear opening of the door. But there is more.

And Labour in the House opened the door also:

Darien Fenton: What does the Minister say to sole parent Natasha Fuller, who says her dreams of becoming an early childhood teacher have been squashed by the Government’s decision, and who feels that all the efforts she has put into training so far have been for nothing, because she cannot afford to further her studies without the assistance of the training incentive allowance?

A clear statement that study was unaffordable (even with interest free student loans). Again this opens the door.

We also have these statements from Fuller on the well read Trade Me Forums. She is the Happy Hocker and said:

no o stirer, im a fellow dpb mum, if u read the link its me they are talking about, I was shocked when this came up today as i get disabilty allowance and max in our area of $110 accom supplement and a very very long wayyyyy off $1000, wanted to send this thread to bennat as proof, and a few other mps that are very supportive

So Fuller is openly talking about her personal informaton such as getting a disability allowance and how much her accom supplement is. And as it happens in terms of gross income it transpires she is almost getting $1,000 a week.

And again she talks about her income and costs here:

i bet thats because they pay high rents, mine is $110 and i pay $280 rent but in cambridge, so its really not like its free cash its eatine up, considering my standard benifit with 3 kids is $260 then i get wff and $30 disability which would barly cover the costs of my meds, hospital trips etc

Here she clearly suggests she is getting only $400 a week plus WFF. In fact it is $715 a week. So again this is not the case of someone having their circumstance revealed just because they got interviewed in a newspaper and said they did not like the decision.

There was also a Facebook campaign page set up, which is now hidden from view. But there is also this campaign website.

Now I should make clear that I think it is a good think the two women want to access tertiary education and have a path off the benefit. Good on them. But with interest free student loans and childcare subsidies, it is not a given that it is impossible to undertake study while on welfare. And if they claim it is impossible for them to do so, then the public (who fund both their welfare payments and their tertiary studies) are entitled to have relevant information to assess that claim.

And an equivalent annual gross income of $46,700 for an adult and three kids, while not comfortable, is probably more than many tertiary students could imagine having while studying.

And if one is going to put yourself out as not receiving enough support from the state, it is also relevant to have revealed that just two years ago you gained a $9560 enterprise grant.

Anyway that is my view. What do others say. The NZ Herald editorial says Bennett was right:

The crux of this issue is whether the information now released by Ms Bennett is relevant to their case, or merely an attempt to intimidate, as critics say. The two women claim genuine financial hardship is thwarting their prospects of escaping the benefit and building a career. The total amount they receive from the state must, therefore, be relevant.

Absolutely. And they conclude:

The upshot will not be that people stop speaking out or that the Government escapes criticism. It will be that all information relevant to an issue is more likely to be put before the public at the outset.

Labour seem determined to stand up for the right of peopel to demand more money from taxpayers without revealing all relevant information.

John Armstrong notes Bennett’s strong performance in the House:

In recent months, however, the self-proclaimed Westie has undergone a Pygmalion-like transformation from a rough-around-the-edges ministerial tyro to a more assured, informed and more confident parliamentary performer who is now much more to grips with her vast Social Development portfolio.

One journalist even reported a while back that Bennett often came off better than Annette King in their encounters. And King is a parliamentary veteran.

In Parliament yesterday, Bennett cited the Privacy Commissioner’s guidelines. She said those showed it could be the case that people going to the media were giving ministers “implied” consent to discuss their personal circumstances. But she added defensively: “This is not something we will be making a practice of.”

The reply drew scorn from Labour MPs. A liberal interpretation of the guidelines, however, might suggest Bennett may be right.

Colin Espiner blogs:

But Bennett’s office has been getting increasingly frustrated that the coverage the women have been getting in the media hasn’t included exactly what the pair already receive courtesy of the taxpayer.

Now, the usual way of dealing with this is to quietly slip the details out to a friendly journalist, or suggest someone ask a question that would reveal the information. Let’s be clear here that Labour did this all the time. It’s standard practice.

A useful reminder.

But Bennett went the more open route. She had her staff release the information openly. So for the record, Fuller gets $715 after tax a week from the Government, and Johnston $554. Both are receiving an allowance for pre-degree study.

Fuller also got $9560 under an enterprise allowance to start a cleaning business, which failed because of illness.

The point of releasing the women’s details was to show that they’re already getting pretty hefty benefits – probably more than many working families.

But Colin warns:

I can understand Bennett’s frustration. She’s getting boxed about the ears by a couple who clearly haven’t been telling the full story about their personal situations.

HOWEVER. Ministers have to be extremely careful about using the power of their office to come down on pesky complainants like a tonne of bricks. Bennett has extraordinary access to beneficiaries’ private lives through the Ministry of Social Development.

The concern with something like this is that it sends the message that if you criticise the Government, it will hit you back 10 times as hard. And while I think actually that this information WAS relevant in this case, I’m not sure it was up to the minister’s office to release it.

Personally I would have asked the two women to reveal the info themselves, and then consider releasing it if they don’t – or if they continue to only put part of the story out there.

I also would have had a lawyer give me a written opinion that the release was within the law. It looks like it is, but I am very risk averse and would want it in writing beforehand.

Bill Ralston also blogs:

Bennett, unimpressed by their arguments that she considered selectively left out some valuable financial facts, published figures showing their full income from the state including benefits and allowances.

Cue roars of outrage. Ms Fuller was “astonished”. Ms Johnston was “flabbergasted”. Green MP Sue Bradford called it “beneficiary bashing”. How dare Minister Bennett make public their financial information without getting their permission?

Hang on.

Johnston and Fuller had already taken some of their financial information public when they talked to the media, established a website and blogged about it.

In other words, they did open the door.

The rules are simple and Ms Johnston and Ms Fuller need to understand them.

* (1) If you stand up in public and make a statement, be prepared to have someone contradict you. That’s democracy.

* (2) If you stick your nose into a political fight, someone is likely to bloody it.

* (3) The public, to which you have just appealed, has the right to hear all the facts, not just the ones you chose to reveal.

He concludes:

These two women chose to exercise their democratic right and criticise the Government. Good on them. But to expect the Government not to criticise them back is just plain stupid.

If someone starts a debate they should expect there to be facts and arguments produced that may be detrimental to their position. Once again, that’s what happens in a democracy.

No one is trying to demean the women. I applaud their feisty response to the Government’s cuts but they can hardly expect to be treated with kid gloves by the media if they deliberately enter a partisan political argument.

Tracy Watkins thinks however Bennett has opened a can of worms:

Paula Bennett has opened a can of worms. By releasing the income details of women who spoke out against cuts to the Training Incentive Allowance she has backed herself into a corner.

Ministers have always been able to shelter behind the defence that they do not comment on individual cases. Neither Bennett – nor any other minister for that matter – can offer that as a credible response from now on. A precedent has been set.

That may be a good or a bad precedent!

This morning, Bennett reacted to the furore by releasing advice from the Privacy Commissioner on the circumstances in which a minister is justified in releasing personal information. My reading of it suggests that Bennett breached the rules though that is probably debateable.

The Commissioner will rule in due course no doubt. If she does rule there was a breach, then Bennett will get considerable stick, and of course have to apologise.

I think the extra information they were putting out on the Internet about their circumstances means it was justified, but again it is the Privacy Commissioner’s decision that counts.