Queenstowners’ personal details leaked in privacy breach

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Thousands of Queenstowners’ personal details have been exposed in an “embarrassing” major privacy breach by the district council’s regulatory organisation. 

Lakes Environmental has inadvertently released, via email, the details of every single complaint it’s received over the past 10 years. 

The email, containing the full complaints register, was sent by a Lakes Environmental staff member to well-known local chef Varick Neilson after he asked to be sent a complaint form. 

“I was just appalled. It shouldn’t have been sent out,” he says. 

Complaints range from people throughout the district objecting to their neighbour’s homes, unlawful rubbish, trading in public places, inappropriate signage, excessive noise, suspected illegal visitor accommodation and other activities without council consent. 

The register – sent to Mountain Scene – includes names and phone numbers of people making the complaints and names of who they’re complaining about, going back to 2003. 

Neilson received the information a few weeks ago after he contacted Lakes Environmental to make a complaint himself. 

“I would have thought that the private details would have been blanked out. 

“When you make a complaint to the council, you assume it will be anonymous. That’s what they say – all complaints are treated anonymously and the person you’re complaining about will not be notified. 

“I was pretty shocked as an everyday person that I’d be sent something that
everybody’s name’s on. Not only that, but their phone numbers, their addresses. 

“What concerns me is there’s no guarantee this hasn’t been accidentally sent out to other people.” 

Lakes Environmental chief executive Hamish Dobbie – who yesterday confirmed he was resigning from his job – says the privacy breach is unacceptable. 

“We are extremely embarrassed by it. 

“We are now reviewing all our systems to attempt to prevent this sort of release occurring in the future.” 

Dobbie has spoken to Neilson to apologise for the breach and Lakes Environmental staff plan to notify the thousands of individuals on the register to apologise. 

With Dobbie’s last day at Lakes Environmental being tomorrow, the internal investigation will be undertaken by the organisation’s yet-to-be-announced in­­­terim chief executive. 

Queenstown Lakes District Council mayor Vanessa van Uden says the council takes residents’ privacy seriously. 

“We need to ensure that whatever processes are in place are reviewed and revised to protect the details of the public. 

“Those details are confidential and should be protected.” 

Neilson did not alert Lakes Environmental or Queenstown Lakes District Council about the error but says he’ll delete the email. “I’ve kind of deleted it out of my memory because it’s not my business, but I was pretty shocked to see some of the complaints in there,” Neilson says. 

Mountain Scene has deleted its copy. 

The local government privacy breach follows a string of embarrassing gaffes by Government organisations. 

This week, the Ministry of Education issued an apology after it was revealed a staff member from the company behind the flawed Novopay system incorrectly sent emails to payroll administrators at 1600 schools. 

The Earthquake Commission recently accidentally released private information of almost 10,000 claimants to a Christchurch resident. 

In October last year Work and Income closed its self-service kiosks after it was revealed thousands of clients’ private details could be accessed by anyone and in March last year, ACC inadvertently emailed personal information of about 6700 clients to claimant Bronwyn Pullar. 

“This breach is just another avenue of that and shows the incompetency of bureaucracies. That’s what really concerns me,” Neilson says.