New Zealand Law Society - Law Society acknowledges privacy breach

Law Society acknowledges privacy breach

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The New Zealand Law Society would like to acknowledge and apologise for a privacy breach. The breach involved a Law Society staff member sending confidential information, in an email, to the wrong person by mistake.

The email contained a complaint to the Law Society by a legal practitioner about his own conduct alleged to amount to sexual harassment or bullying. Court orders prevent any publication of details.

This was human error created by an “auto fill” response in emailing. The name of the intended recipient, a Law Society employee, was similar to the name of the person who ultimately received the information.

The Law Society President, Kathryn Beck, says this was an unacceptable and preventable mistake.

“This error has caused additional and unnecessary stress for those whose information was disclosed. The Law Society was entrusted with information that it should have been able to properly protect and we fell short of our internal standards. We are profoundly sorry for this unacceptable mistake.”

The Law Society asked the recipient to delete the information. The recipient did not initially respond to repeated attempts at contact. All those involved were told about the breach as well as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

In order to protect the privacy of the people involved, the Law Society sought a court order preventing the publication of the details of the email.  The Society’s concern was to protect the confidentiality of the information and to ensure no further dissemination

The Law Society accepts this incident raises questions about how it handles confidential information.

Kathryn Beck says:

“Any breach of privacy undermines the integrity of an organisation. This comes at a time where questions are being asked about our organisation’s systems and processes.  We must provide the highest standard of care in regard to private information. We did not do that on this occasion.”

The Law Society has reviewed its processes to test that they are as resilient as possible and all staff have also been instructed again on the need to follow the procedures at all times.

“It is vital that people contacting the Law Society about complaints can be assured that their information will be treated with absolute confidentiality,” Kathryn Beck said.

The Privacy Commissioner, John Edwards, says he has reviewed the steps that the Law Society took following the breach and considers that they were responsible steps.