New Zealand Law Society - Sensible Sentencing Trust falsely labels man a paedophile

Sensible Sentencing Trust falsely labels man a paedophile

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The Privacy Commissioner says that the Sensible Sentencing Trust (SST) has interfered with a man's privacy by incorrectly labelling him as a convicted paedophile on its website.

The SST's 'Offender Database' listed the man's picture with the description of a convicted paedophile with a similar name for almost two years before the man found out and complained to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

A member of the public submitted the man's photo, and a volunteer uploaded it to the database without taking any steps to verify its accuracy. The SST admitted that it did not know who had submitted the photo or who uploaded it. It also admitted that it does not provide its volunteers with privacy training.

"Agencies must take reasonable steps to check that personal information is accurate before they use it. Relying on the assistance of unpaid volunteers does not excuse the SST of its legal obligations," says Privacy Commissioner John Edwards.

In a Case Note, the Office says its investigation found that the SST had clearly harmed the man with its actions. He was subjected to social media abuse and was afraid that the mistake would damage his business.

"The SST claims that the purpose of its 'Offender Database' is to protect the public from harm and help keep offenders accountable. In this case it has done the exact opposite. The magnitude of this error calls the SST's capabilities into question and raises concerns that the database may have contained other significant errors," says Mr Edwards.

In response to the Office's investigation, the SST acknowledged that a mistake was made and took its database down. However, the parties were unable to reach a settlement. The Commissioner will now refer this complaint to the Director of Human Rights Proceedings.

In a settlement with the Director for another privacy case in 2014, the SST agreed to provide relevant personnel with privacy training. The Office understands that the SST provided one person with privacy training, and that person left the SST soon after.

"It’s very disappointing that – having previously been found in breach and agreeing as part of a settlement to improve its compliance – SST has failed to meet its obligations, at the cost of an innocent man's reputation and peace of mind," Mr Edwards says.

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