Privacy, a small word, with huge ramifications. As a social worker in the making I have become acutely aware of the importance of privacy. Privacy is a core ethical principal at the very heart of being a competent social worker (Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers, 2008; Social Work Registration Board , 2016).
I am particularly interested in the notion of privacy and community investment. In October 2016 the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) released their Community Investment Strategy which stated, quite clearly, that the focus of this investment was for improving results for vulnerable children and youth; and reducing family violence and sexual violence (Ministry of Social Development, 2016). Wanting improved results for vulnerable people is fundamental to social work.
Part of this financial investment in community NGOs, was a trade off which required these organisations to disclose the private details of clients who were receiving their services and support to the MSD. At present the government is revising who will have to disclose this information in 2017/2018 as some organisations may be exempt.
As a result of this requirement, there has recently been an abundance of press releases opposed to the notion of releasing this private client level data. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner calls this data for funding excessive and disproportionate. The National Beneficiary Advocacy Consultancy Group , Comvoices , NZ Psychological Society , NZ Association of Counsellors and National Network of Stopping Violence Services are just a few of the organisations who have spoken up against the idea of releasing personal information to be held in a ‘secure’ data base. Prof. Rhema Vaithianathan suggests that this level of data collection is unnecessary as de-identified data is able to provide the level of information required for measuring programme effectiveness (Vaithianathan, 2017).
You might ask then, why is this information needed? And perhaps, more specifically, what has this client level data collection got to do with community investment? (Ministry of Social Development, 2016)
The Treasury state that the role of data is to:
“encourage innovative approaches to longstanding social problems”
“Fantastic”, I think. However, as mentioned above, client level data collection is unnecessary, and when MSD talk about developing
“…our capability to use this data effectively, we will be able to look across other programmes and services that clients access (funded by other Government agencies)” (Ministry of Social Development, 2016, p. 14)
This is where I start to feel resistant to the idea of client level data being released. My concerns are increased with my understanding that personal information, and that of dependents, be a mandatory requirement for those seeking support and services when they are most vulnerable. Added to my concern, is the notion that current client level data collection is the minimum requirement (Ministry of Social Development, 2016).
What is unclear to me is how asking for specific names, addresses and birth dates of both clients and their dependents, is going to further help the Ministry to provide effective services. An alternative has been proposed by Comvoices which discusses a notion of a more thorough explanation being required and possible solutions (Comvoices, 2017).
When the privacy commissioner states that the collection of individual client level data is inconsistent with the Privacy Act, (John Edwards: Privacy Commissioner, 2017) this is in breach of personal privacy. As social workers it is our responsibility to join with other social services and voice our concerns.
Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers. (2008). Code of ethics. Christchurch: ANZASW National Office.
Comvoices. (2017). Issues Paper: A proposal to build a robust, evidence based learning system for social investment. Social Service Providers Aotearoa Inc. Retrieved from http://www.sspa.org.nz/
John Edwards: Privacy Commissioner. (2017, April 4). Privacy Commissioner’s Inquiry into MSD Collection of Client-Level Data from NGOs report. Retrieved from Privacy Commissioner: https://www.privacy.org.nz/assets/Files/Reports/2017-04-04-Inquiry-into-MSD-collection-of-individual-client-level-data-OPC-report.pdf
Ministry of Social Development. (2016, October). Community Investment Strategy: Investing in Services for Outcomes. Retrieved from Ministry of Social Development: Te Manatu Whakahiato Ora: https://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/about-msd-and-our-work/work-programmes/community-investment-strategy/community-investment-strategy-update-2016.pdf
Social Work Registration Board . (2016). Core Competence Standards. Retrieved from Social Work Registration Board: www.swrb.govt.nz
Vaithianathan, R. (2017). Rhema Vaithianathan: Data – the heavy lifting can ge done blind. Wellington: The Dominion Post.