When a secret is no longer a secret…

Recently I had an ACC claim.  I strained some knee ligaments.  Old injury, no problem, specialist appointment courtesy of the ACC, and after some appropriate exercise and a follow up appointment, all fixed.

If the file of that treatment got stolen, sent to someone in an email or otherwise treated carelessly, I would be angry.  However I can guarantee I wouldn’t feel so ashamed I would want to die, frightened for my personal safety, or worried about being stigmatized by people who found out.

So it is a worrying start to the privacy investigation when the Assistant Privacy Commissioner has issued a letter reported on here saying things like this:

“…information emailed to Bronwyn Pullar was at ‘lower end of breach’…

 “The privacy breaches that are being investigated in this instance, while very concerning in an overall information handling context, involve the disclosure of mostly inoffensive information, albeit on a large scale…”


This says to me that the bodies investigating this breach may not fully understand the impact of the recent privacy breaches on sensitive claimants, in that the breach for this group of clients is substantially different to those who have suffered a physical injury.

But of more concern is the fact that the letter can also be read as actively discouraging future whistle blowers by implicating Ms. Pullar:

“Mr Flahive also noted the commission was investigating possible breaches of the Privacy Act by Ms Pullar as well as ACC and he asked the claimant to identify which of those two parties she was complaining against.”

Interestingly someone has pointed out to me that the Privacy act (1983) states:

 “In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires, collect does not include receipt of unsolicited information” [Emphasis added.]


It has been clear from the start that Ms. Pullar (see: “Blow your own whistle“) removed names and identifying information from the now infamous spreadsheet before being handed over to the Dominion Post.  There is also little doubt the information was “unsolicited” being accidentally sent to Ms. Pullar in an unrelated email.

Privacy is deeply important to those accessing psychological therapy.  This importance that is placed on privacy is the reason historically for the existence of the Sensitive Claims Unit, a separate and private specialist unit within ACC.  In my opinion Ms. Pullar understands this, and it is in fact this understanding that has motivated her actions.  There is also no shortage of people who would like you to think otherwise.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, I’ve heard a rumour, albeit reliable, that some “long term” sensitive claimants are now being managed at their regional ACC branch office, which is also a clear breach of this understanding.

It was also reported here over the weekend that a psychiatrist contracted to the ACC lost full copies of client files after her unattended suitcase was stolen from a bus, and the ACC’s CEO Ralph Stewart admitting that there will be more privacy breaches

Sensitive claimants no longer being managed by the sensitive claims unit, client files being left unattended on buses, clients being offered the option of complaining against the whistle blower that bought this all into the light…

Inoffensive information on a large scale.  Really?  Is it really that hard to understand why confidentiality is so important?

And is it really that hard to keep a secret?

Leave a Comment

  • Robyn May 20, 2012, 8:36 pm

    Want a secret kept? Leave it with a Sensitive Claims claiment. At least they are reliable.

  • barbara May 20, 2012, 8:59 pm

    I agree that the SCU is reliable at keeping secrets which only serves to perpetuate abuse by keeping secrets in the way that they do. Shut the SCU down and start it all over again with staff that are actually qualified and well trained

  • Unicorn May 20, 2012, 10:31 pm

    They actually DONT CARE!

    Its all about their own pay packets, and keeping their jobs.

    Theyre all just a bunch of clerical workers going to the office each day to play the game called bureaucracy.

    Their purpose is lost – long forgotten.

    What has happened to society, when people DONT matter, and its becomes all about the money? Its the devil in control, and this corruption and ignorance needs to be exorcised.

    • Elaine May 21, 2012, 3:30 pm

      If people matter how about being less judgmental about “just a bunch of clerical workers”. Do we have double standards here?

      • Unicorn May 21, 2012, 8:49 pm

        I was specifically speaking about ACC employees. They have a far too grandiose perception of themselves – when they, as clerical workers, tell doctors how to doctor, and psychologists and pshychiatrists how to do their jobs – as if the clerical workers (ACC employees) have spent many years of hard slog and sweat gaining their medical degrees when they havent.
        All the ACC clerical worker had to do was learn to use a computer and follow sometimes illegal and corrupt instructions from their corrupt bosses!! And all the while not being held accountable for any of the abuse they dish out to their clients while doing it. This is fact, not fiction!

        It was definately not a slur on all clerical workers – just ALL ACC employees.

  • kea May 20, 2012, 10:40 pm

    This response from the Privacy Commissioner is called minimisation and is symptomatic of Government organisations that defend complaints regarding their competency by attacking defenseless and vulnerable victims. The implication is that complainant is being childish and over sensitive and wasting important peoples time and money on petty matters. This is a course of action that has recently crept into ACC commissioned Psychiatric assessments as well, so this would appear to be a Public Service wide Policy. It is another indicator as to how cowardly our Public Service has become in that they have no hesitation in attacking the most vulnerable among our society in the name of expediency rather than humanity (the quality of being humane; kindness; benevolence).

    It is a response from an adult that has not had any dealings with a person with a mental injury or chooses not to care. I have a daughter and wife both who have mental injuries sustained at the hands of the same adult male when they were young, innocent children (A generation apart). Their whole World is predicated on the fanciful idea that no one should know what has happened to them for the fear of their feelings of self disgust and dirtiness being revealed to others scrutiny. Any breach small or large that is reported to the victim can retraumatise; a condition that those not close to victims will not understand as they have not been subjected to extreme life or death stress within the confines of a child’s brain.

    The reaction of the Privacy Commissioner and of ACC’s approach to these victims of crime 1) Illustrates that the ACC is not the organisation to deal with these claimants through it’s need to meet financial directives in preference to adhering to the Law or showing any compassion to victims of childhood sexual abuse and 2) The privacy commissioner is not fit to uphold his/her position due to a narrow life experience.

    Shame on you – at least most other 1st World economies have issued State apologies to victims of childhood sexual abuse – but not New Zealand; they attempt to marginalise and victimise them by telling them “to just get over it, it’s not that bad” at the highest level for whatever cowardly reason. No wonder we have the highest level of violent crime against children.

  • David Wadsworth May 20, 2012, 11:00 pm

    Before ACC can take privacy seriously and keep a secret they would need to consider privacy more important than finding a way to exit the claimant from the ACC scheme (by hook or by crook). I think most know what ACC’s priorities are. Where the culture is one of a bunker mentality, us against them, then the enemies privacy doesn’t matter that much – unless it becomes political.

    • Off the Couch: Kyle MacDonald May 21, 2012, 2:00 pm

      I was hoping that it had become political David, but this response from the Privacy Commisioner is not promising it it?

  • Matt May 21, 2012, 8:59 am

    Under Section Two of the Privacy Act “collection” excludes the receipt of unsolicited information.
    Pullar didn’t ask for the information to be sent to her. Therefore, it’s unsolicited and there is no basis to pursue her under the Act.

    Case Note 4784 November 2001

    Further Principle 8 of the Act insists that information must be correct, up to date, accurate and not misleading before use.
    Therefore the Privacy Commissioner letter breaches their own Act by misleading claimants about what is actionable under the Privacy Act.

    This letter smacks of bullying and an abuse of power by the State. In fact one could even it’s malicious by deliberately misleading recipients and inciting them to take action against Pullar when there is no basis form doing so.

    What is ironic about all this is Pullar didn’t breach anybodies privacy. ACC did.

    So why the beat up on Pullar?

    I’d,likemto suggest the letter has been written with a political agenda in yet another attempt to discredit Pullar and to discourage other whistleblowers. Sound familiar?

    Who is the Minister in charge if ACC? Judith Collins
    Who is the Minister in charge of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner? Judith Collins
    One has to question how much influence, if any, does Collins have over reports and letters by these entities?

    • Off the Couch: Kyle MacDonald May 21, 2012, 1:57 pm

      Interesting connections Matt…

  • Jax May 21, 2012, 11:24 am

    My new word is ‘Cynality”…. a blending of ‘cynical & reality’.

    With this hybrid in mind, I can now fully understand the motives and reasoning behind the insurmountable breaches in privacy with ACC – it is realistic to think there will be more breaches in privacy because the aim is to close the SCU (albeit through a whitewashing of employee incompetence) and sell it off to the highest private sector. That has been their goal from the onset. However, an outright selling of this ‘asset’ would have caused public outrage – best get the actual public themselves to ban together and call for the closure on their behalf, and that is exactly what we are seeing now.

    Is that just being cynical or just plain ole realistic?

    As for the privacy breaches themselves, they are a joke. There is no such thing as a breach of privacy with ACC. Any investigations with the Privacy Commission and even the Ombudsman end with the same result – define the damage that you have suffered. And if you do “define damage” (which must include some form of emotional turmoil), your case will be thrown out on the basis that your “stress” was a pre-determined condition based on your initial reason for counselling.

    In other words, the psychological damage a client may initially have as a result of sexual abuse can not be separated from any “stress” a breach in privacy may have caused. Result? No damage done – client was already screwed up.

    Cynical or realistic?

    Secondly, if you do manage to jump through that initial hurdle, the next stumbling block will be stating your emotional damages caused by the breach…. the loop hole with that is, they will not accept a case if you are emotionally upset (they think it’s a tad unfair!) and yet, without being emotionally upset, you have no claim.

    So yeah…. anyone else feeling the vertigo of this crafty loophole?

    It’s been over a year since I was sued for “defamation” by Jansen….. and my subsequent investigation into the privacy breach he MUST have done in order to gain information into my “confidential address” has died a natural ACC death….. The Privacy Commission do not think I suffered any damages and neither do ACC. Result: Nada. No even an apology.

    And to top it off, I am still awaiting the initial counselling I sort in 2009 and the subject of my aggrieved blog posting about… dare I say it… ACC’s incompetence. Did I really expect anything constructive from such a destructive force?

    No not really…. it’s called cynality folks.


    • Off the Couch: Kyle MacDonald May 21, 2012, 1:58 pm

      It does seem there is quite a bit of frustration with how the outcome of privacy breaches are pretty disappointing. Hard to put much stock in the outcome of reassuring it won’t happen again when we now have the CEO stating on the record that it will…

  • Gay May 21, 2012, 12:49 pm

    Tena koutou tatou katoa

    The first word that came to mind when reading this blog was “UNBELIEVABLE”, closely followed by “TYPICAL”. Though two seemingly incongruent thoughts, they are often come to me in tandem when it’s an issue related to ACC, as well as some other bureaucracies it is not relevant to mention. No wonder those who come to us traumatised and confused get thrown through loops in their own mind when dealing with systems like this, i.e. yes, we are the sensitive claims unit, but no, we’re not too worried about your confidential information being leaked. And claimants who have had their trust severely breached as a result of abuse are supposed to trust in their processes!!

    It is astounding to me that some people in the system of ACC and related Government departments appear to have such minimal understanding of the issues those we counsel struggle with when they have readily available access to professionals, such as the SCAG members, who are willing to be to provide advice when requested. Of course there is an absolute mine of information amongst those who have actually experienced ACC as claimants, who seem to have minimal opportunity to provide input.
    Carry on the good work, Kyle. Kia kaha, kia toa, kia manawanui.

    • Off the Couch: Kyle MacDonald May 21, 2012, 1:59 pm

      Thanks Gay.

  • Mystery May 21, 2012, 7:01 pm

    All of this; privacy breaches, being wrongly kicked off weekly comp (not just me, others too) – against all medical advice….Having wrong information about you on ACC files – and them continually refusing to correct the errors before sending it off to yet another ACC toadie assessor…for more wrong reporting…Knowing that the MInister for ACC and the Minister for Justice are the same person – ergo knowing it is by govt design to knowingly abuse us further….It has become too much for me…I am now having disassociation bouts, where I dont even know my own name, for hours at a time…Im on new anxiolitic meds, and sleeping pills for sleep. Im just beyond being able to cope…This is the real reality of human hurt caused by ACCs inhumane actions towards the very people they were designed to help, and established for in the first place.

    And the worst of it all is…there is no one to help…no one to fix…no place to go when you become homeless…nowhere to hide your shame of not being able to cope with any more abuse….I am very sad now…..where is hope?

  • Geoff June 6, 2012, 4:53 pm

    Here’s a reason why I call ACC a mafia organisation: http://soc.li/QQGTFNc This behavior existed then and still exists now. The word “Hitman” used by the Judge in her findings with regard ACC, are appropriate when referring to this Government sanctioned Mafia. How a mentally ill claimant is meant to maintain any semblance of sanity with treatment by successive Governments like this, is any ones guess. How can any Parliament, that is apparently on the one hand serious about countering the poor track record with regard childhood abuse, be taken seriously, when they sanction an organisation as marginally law abiding as ACC, to mistreat those same vulnerable claimants later in their sad lives.

  • K June 17, 2012, 9:10 am

    Dude, you’re in the paper! Finally someone is listening….

TO BUY MY NEW BOOK "Shit Happens: Lessons for Dealing with Life's Ups and Downs"... CLICK HERE