Nicky Hager has agreed a settlement of his privacy dispute with Westpac. This may be the final chapter in the fallout from the Police’s investigation into Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics that included the unlawful raid on his home in 2014.
Under the settlement agreement announced today, Westpac will be significantly tightening its contractual terms in relation to the release of customer information to government agencies, including the Police. From now on, if the Police ask Westpac for information about its customers, Westpac will only confirm whether or not that person is its customer. It will not provide any other customer information except with either a production order, the customer’s consent, where it is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious threat to health or safety, or as required by law.
Westpac has apologised to Mr Hager for releasing his information and has agreed to pay his costs and compensation.
Mr Hager said: “This is an important victory for privacy in New Zealand. It will help many people. Four years ago, when this story first broke, a wide range of New Zealanders expressed strong concern about the idea that a person’s banking data could be taken without a warrant.”
“I was confident we were going to prevail before the Human Rights Review Tribunal, but that was likely to have been several years away still. Westpac have done the right thing here by owning up to the breach and putting in place much better procedures to protect against it happening again.”
Felix Geiringer, Mr Hager’s barrister, says that this settles Mr Hager’s last ongoing dispute stemming from the 2014 raid. However, it is not the last word on this privacy issue. Mr Geiringer said: “Westpac’s new terms look good. But what about the other banks? In 2014, they had the same arrangement with the Police as did Westpac. We do not know that anything has changed. And what about other companies holding our private data? Pressure needs to continue on those other institutions until they implement terms like the ones announced today by Westpac.”
In the leadup to raiding Mr Hager’s home, the Police asked Westpac for over ten months of Mr Hager’s bank transactions. The Police did not have a warrant or production order for that information. Police falsely said that Mr Hager was being investigated for fraud. In June last year, the Police apologised to Mr Hager and admitted that they had had no basis for that accusation. The Police also accepted that their request for data from Westpac had been unlawful.
Mr Hager regarded this as a serious media protection issue: “In my case, this information could not be used to identify my source. However, cases overseas have shown how easy it can be to identify a journalist’s source from private information held by third parties like banks and telcos. Journalists need to know that that information will be kept private.”
In early 2017, the Privacy Commissioner found that Westpac had breached Mr Hager’s privacy by releasing his personal information to the Police without a warrant. However, the Privacy Commissioner’s view is only advisory. In order to seek binding orders against Westpac, Mr Hager had to bring a case to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.