Mass surveillance of Beneficiaries is sickening


The extent of abuse by the sadists within the Ministry of Social Development should shame New Zealanders…

Privacy Commissioner report shows Govt unlawfully breaching privacy of thousands of beneficiaries

A report by the Privacy Commissioner on the Ministry of Social Development’s investigative practices into benefit fraud has found the Government agency to be unjustifiably breaching people’s privacy. The report suggests that the Ministry of Social Development breached The Bill of Rights 1990, unnecessarily collected intimate text messages of beneficiaries, and failed to ask people on the benefit investigated information before seeking it from third parties. Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) met with the Privacy Commissioner office in 2018 to highlight concerns held by the organisation for years. AAAP supports the findings of the report and makes the following demands based on its findings:

–          An apology from Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni and Deputy Chief Executive for Service Delivery Viv Rickard to the thousands of beneficiaries whose privacy was unjustifiably breached.

–          A review of all overpayments established by the Ministry of Social Development following a high-risk benefit fraud investigation in which the Ministry investigators may have breached its Code of Conduct.

–          Legislative changes to ensure that the Social Security Act reflects modern relationships and individualises benefit entitlements, which would stop people on the benefit from being investigated over their relationship status.

“The Privacy Commissioner report is a sobering picture from years of attacks to people on the benefit by the Ministry in the form of invasive investigations and refusal to update its practices since 2012. It is a shame that it took the Privacy Commissioner for the Ministry of Social Development to act on the concerns raised by advocacy groups for years around its investigative practices. The Ministry of Social Development has a toxic culture, treating the people it is meant to support with contempt and suspicion”, says Ricardo Menendez March.

“Thousands of people each year have been subjected to having their intimate lives meticulously pried upon by the Ministry in order to determine whether they are in a ‘marriage type relationship’. This is the result of legislation which punishes people for being in a relationship by forcing them into financial dependence and does not clearly define what a ‘marriage type relationship’ is, leaving it up to MSD staff to arbitrarily determine.

“The Government was due and failed to review the Ministry’s investigative practices twice in 2015 and 2018, despite ongoing concerns by advocacy groups and the Privacy Commissioner. The failure to review the investigative practices, despite continuous media stories and public concerns from advocacy groups about the damage benefit fraud investigations were causing, speaks to negligence by Government agencies.

“We are calling for an apology by Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni and Deputy Chief Executive for Service Delivery Viv Rickard to the thousands of beneficiaries whose privacy was unjustifiably breached. We are also calling on the Government to review all overpayments established as a result of alleged benefit fraud where a high-risk investigation may have taken place, due to the report’s findings that the Ministry was wrongfully interpreting the law and likely to be breaching the Bill of Rights 1990. The misuse of Section 11 of the Social Security Act meant thousands of beneficiaries a year were put through humiliating investigative interviews where things intimate pictures and text messages were unnecessarily used to try and establish people’s relationship status.

“The report should also be a wake-up call for the Government to amend the Social Security Act and stop punishing people in the welfare system for being in a relationship. Currently the married benefit rate is lower than two individual benefit rates, and people on the benefit in a relationship with someone who earns above a certain threshold are expected to forgo all financial independence as they lose their benefit entitlements.

“The Privacy Commissioner found that most of the investigations by the Ministry of Social Development were initiated due to external tip-offs through a dedicated tip-off line, with most investigations concerning the relationship status of the beneficiary. Auckland Action Against Poverty suggests moving towards individualising benefit entitlements, as suggested by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group, to avoid the Government having an excuse to pry into people’s intimate life in the first place.

“The response by the Ministry of Social Development to the Privacy Commissioner’s Report needs to go beyond a mild acceptance of the recommendations by the commissioner and deliver justice for the thousands of people whose privacy was unlawfully breached by the Government.

…if the bloody cops wanted to get this level of spying on an individual, they would require a warrant, but not the little Government sadists at the Ministry of Social Development.

Like an official panty sniffer, the Ministry of Social Development sneak around people’s bedrooms to see if they are in a relationship or not.

What  makes this even more septic is that the Ministry refuse point blank to tell beneficiaries  what the ‘relationship equation actually is, this is so the Ministry can argue for mass surveillance powers to catch ‘welfare cheats’ out.

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There are so many things sick and wrong about this.

Firstly, why punish people who enter into relationships with less welfare? That’s just a trap created by the Ministry to penalise as many beneficiaries as they can.

Secondly the pricks don’t tell beneficiaries what a relationship actually is (is it when the person spends half the time at your place, a third, a quarter?)

Thirdly these sadists shouldn’t have this level of surveillance power in the first bloody place! Welfare fraud is not a national security threat to NZ, why should some gleefully Orwellian Wellington Bureaucrat get this level of power over the weakest and poorest members of society?

This highlights all that is wrong with the neoliberal welfare state, it is designed to be as punitive and damaging in its engagement with people so that the people flee in terror and rather than reach out for help, shun any Government interference in their lives.

The Neoliberal Welfare State is the problem, not the poor and desperate requiring help.

When will this Government lead a purge against these Bureaucrats?


  1. Putting it like you’ve described MSD snoops M. They should be working for the SIS & GCSBs terrorist watch squad! With that kinda intensity and level of surveillance, theyd find a few terrorists a week!

  2. +100 Great Post

    Most of this happened under the John Key Nactional Government …and shades of Thompson and Clark spying on ordinary New Zealanders

    …almost a police State

    …with the most vulnerable picked on

    ….the Public service is there to protect and support New Zealanders, especially the most vulnerable

    Again as with the Thompson and Clark spying there needs to be a full Commission of Inquiry

  3. Like with taxation, people on benefits should have a choice to be taxed individually, and not be forced into unhealthy possibly violent, abusive relationships. Abolish the marriage category and treat persons as individuals may be the solution, so every person gets entitlements based on that.

    They offered free student loans to all, irrespective of their parents’ income, that is this government, why not do something similar to welfare beneficiaries, where you get a benefit, no matter whether you have a partner or not, and whether the partner works or not?

    But perhaps some caps on joint incomes may still need to be applied, that is if people live together more than six months.

    • Student loans were introduced to replace student allowances, the means test for the latter being reduced to parents’ combined income of $50,000 (in 1992), regardless of whether they are together or how many children they have in tertiary education. I went from qualifying for SA in 1991 to having to get a loan for my final year in 1992, which took approximately 17 years to pay back. It was 2% interest until I began earning over a certain amount, then leapt to abou 9% or so I think- borrowed $7,000, paid back about $11,000.

    • Individual entitlement is the key to fixing this. The cost won’t be anywhere near what government or the right wing claim because there will be a significant number of people who will choose not to claim the benefit because they don’t need it. At the very least, it shouldn’t be inconsistent with this government’s stated values to remove the consequences of receiving a benefit when in a relationship in the nature of marriage, which are overpayments, monetary penalties or criminalisation and potentially imprisonment. A lot of people who are on the receiving end of MSD’s hateful practices don’t even know they’re doing anything wrong.

      • And lot of people who are on the receiving end of MSD’s hateful practices aren’t doing anything wrong but have their lives destroyed nonetheless.

  4. Public servants are paid by us to act kind to those in need not as spies so they need sacking to make an example of them.

  5. People are taxed as individuals. Welfare should be the same.
    Otherwise, to be fair, tax should be as a couple.

    This is particularly important for women, The idea that they should financially depend on a male belongs in Victorian times.

    One of the best ways to reduce child poverty, and birth rates, the obsession of the right wing, is to increase the autonomy and financial independence, of women!

    • Why tax beneficiaries at all? We tax them now because it’s cheaper to import cheap labour rather than subsidising our own labour costs.

      I mean we ain’t going to pay for roads and hospitals out of taxing the bene. Only reason it’s there is for spite.

      There isn’t a valid economic reason for spite.

    • Great point re Victorian times!

      What is truly frightening is that MSD still do not have a precise definition of what a “relationship in the nature of marriage” is.

    • Benefits are taxed. It’s individual entitlement that’s needed. The problem is how do we get around the perceived cost of giving a benefit to the partner of someone earning plenty of money?

      A good start could be making the married rate of benefit the equivalent to twice the single rate, assess individual entitlement accordingly, realise the sky won’t fall in and then extend it to everyone.

  6. “These sadists,’ is the correct terminology here.An ex-Winz employee phoned me after seeing this reported on television, over-joyed that they are going to be called to account – although that remains to be seen.

    The client ambushed with a personal photo is a typical ploy used by MSD service managers at employees’ sadistic bullying performance appraisals to get them off-balance.

    It can be info based on tea room gossip or conversations overheard in the lift, and what the incompetent service managers are aiming for are”Gotcha” moments, and this is with their own staff, because it is the only way that they know how to behave; it is totally counterproductive, but it keeps the managers on top.

    MSD needs a complete clean out like the IRD had some years back, and
    half the managers sent off to do real work in the countryside for a spell as Chairman Mao was wont to do.

    People do rip off WINZ, and sometimes with quite spectacular amounts of money and they clearly need to develop better protocols for dealing with this, but they must work within the letter of the law.

    Their own internal promotion processes need a major tidying up too.

  7. Firstly, why punish people who enter into relationships with less welfare?
    – Probably to terrorize poor people into not having children.

    We need a massive cultural and political overhaul.

    • Lostrelic -So that they can say that the client is in a marriage-type relationship and therefore doesn’t need income support – because she’s got a bloke.

      They used to look in women’s wardrobes for men’s clothes and shoes etc – I’ve got three men’s shirts and one man’s jersey, so I could be in a bit of bother there.

      It would surprise me if there were even an agreed-upon definition of a relationship in the nature of a marriage.

      There used to be – and probably still are- govt dept discussions about how many sleep-overs constitute a marriage-type relationship.

      When all this started, the ex-wife of a moderately high -profile journo I knew, had a boyfriend on the other side of town. I think he slept over 2 or 3 nights a week.

      The journo shopped his wife to WINZ and she ended up marrying her boyfriend from the other side of town, when she didn’t really want to marry again still unrecovered from her first husband who threw the iron at her, and smashed a window to get out of the room she had locked him in when he could just as easily have opened the window, Sounds comical, but it wasn’t really.

      A few years ago a judge agreed with a legal argument that because
      a woman’s boyfriend beat her up, did not mean that their relationship was not in the nature of a marriage – and yep – that’s the reality for many, too many, New Zealand women.

      MSD’s assumption that in bona fide marriages men provide adequate financial support for their wives and children is another assumption that
      I suggest the MSD themselves well know, is total crap.

      • MSD apply the legal test incorrectly because either they’re incompetent, or because they need an arse to kick, or both.

  8. Yuck, the thought of that ugly huckster Rickards slobbering over my personal files makes me feel ill.

  9. The Labour Party (who I’ve supported for most of my life, except on rare occasion), STILL aren’t really getting it are they?

    I’m now becoming a little a little ancient, though not yet in receipt of the Gold Card, and it’s probably not that long before I get death.
    I do however recall how my father-in-law (a life-long Party stalwart), ditched them for good when they opted for a neo-liberal agenda, and when they signed up for spin and bullshit and the politics of celeb rather than substance. (He died btw, of cancer – if not for drugs available that Pharmac’s ‘officials’ continue to dither over)

    Probably the biggest threat to Labour’s continued existence and relevance is a supposedly ‘apolitical’ Public Service that serves it (when in government or opposition), and the populace (that it pretends to ‘serve’)

    I’m not sure yet what it is exactly. Whether it’s that (Ministers, MPs and the PM) are a little naive; whether they’re so ‘nice’ that forgiveness goes time after time after every fuckup; whether they’re just fundamentally not so good as judges of character – such as when they’re lied to, spun, bullshitted to but can’t see it; whether they’re just into a bit of BDSM and that sadistic behaviour towards ‘the other’ has become a bit of a turn on; or whether there are different definitions these days of words like ‘transformational’ and ‘compassionate’.

    Sure as shit though, at every fuckup I’ve witnessed over the past several years (and I’ve been watching them for quite some time*). the Ministers responsible appear to have complete faith in “THEIR officials”
    Something’s fundamentally gone wrong there just for starters!!!!

    It’s now both amusing and serious.

    But what is even worse is when the Judicial branch of government calls foul (and we can all go into their neutering and competency on the basis of populist opinion), there’s a yea/nah response, and no one ever gets held to account.
    Threat to democracy much ? No wonder people are losing faith and resorting to extremism.

    For me, I’m just wondering when it might be that anyone that thinks it OK for MSD to surreptitiously look into people’s panty drawers without their knowledge (I’m reducing MSD’s behaviour to all that image); or to engage the services of T&C across A NUMBER of agencies of government), really isn’t that suited to being employed in any Civil Service role.
    But ya know ………. next!

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