Access to historic information

Published: July 26, 2019

Archives New Zealand and Oranga Tamariki are working together to protect access to historic personal information. 

If you have any concerns your information may have been accessed you can email:

24 July 2019 MEDIA RELEASE

Archives New Zealand and Oranga Tamariki are working together to protect access to historic personal information.

On Wednesday we were notified of information involving the personal details of individuals being held in open access files at Archives New Zealand. The files identified contained the names and historic personal information of people who have spent time in state care during their childhood over 30 years ago. This kind of information would be restricted under today’s approach to privacy.

“The privacy of personal information is something that we treat extremely seriously. When Archives New Zealand was made aware of this situation both organisations took immediate steps to suspend the open access of these files to ensure they were no longer publicly available,” says Antony Moss, Director Government Recordkeeping, Archives NZ.

“We are now working to understand the extent of the access and other government agencies have been informed of the situation,” says Mr Moss.

Matt Winter, Oranga Tamariki Deputy Chief Executive Corporate Services, says: “The privacy concerns and welfare of the people affected is our priority and we understand this news may be distressing for those affected, and for people who might wonder whether their information has been accessed.

“We are now working to understand the extent of the vulnerability and other government agencies have been informed of the situation.

“We have informed the Privacy Commissioner and we are carefully assessing the best approach to address the concerns of those affected.”

Individual agencies have responsibility for assigning access classification to files they transfer to Archives NZ. We have advised other key agencies that provide personal information to Archives NZ to check the access provisions they have assigned to files. Archives NZ provides ongoing guidance to agencies on file classification and will continue to work with them to ensure correct file classifications are in place.

The files in question were transferred to Archives in 1989 by the then Department of Social Welfare. At the time these files were set to open access. It is important to note that no Oranga Tamariki case files were improperly accessed.

Due to the steps we have taken to restrict access to files while we review them, some files may be restricted while we work to ensure this does not happen again. Individuals who have an interest in viewing records can still apply through the relevant agency.

Questions and answers

Why was the information not restricted?

The information in question was transferred to Archives in 1989 by the then Department of Social Welfare. This was 30 years ago, before the Public Records Act 2005 or the Privacy Act 1993 existed and the approach to privacy was very different. Today, this kind of information would be reviewed upon transfer to Archives and restrictions placed on the information as appropriate. Ownership of the information in question was passed through several different ministries before being passed to Oranga Tamariki when it was created in 2017.

Why does Archives NZ hold personal information?

Personal information often forms part of the public record, which Archives NZ holds. Well-known examples include personnel records for WW1 soldiers and historic birth, death and marriage records. Archives NZ, as the regulator of government information, provides guidance to public offices on how to classify access to their records. Responsibility for access decisions reside with the agency that created the records.

How much information was accessed?

We are still assessing the full extent of the information that was accessed.

Were any Oranga Tamariki case files accessed?

No Oranga Tamariki case files were improperly accessed and such files have a restricted access classification. A case file is similar to a client management file outlining the history of a client’s interactions with the agency over the course of their involvement with an agency.

What immediate steps were taken to restrict access to this information?

As soon as we were notified on Wednesday Archives NZ suspended open access to this information. This ensures it is not publicly available. Oranga Tamariki has asked Archives to temporarily restrict access to all its files while the best approach to ensure the right level of access is applied.

What type of information do these records contain?

The historical records relate to people who have spent time in state care before 1989. The level of detail in the files varies, with some including names and dates of birth. Others also include further information such as the home or caregiver an individual was placed with and references to information including referrals for psychiatric evaluations or prescription of medications. These records are not case files.

Do we know if other people have accessed this information?

Information to hand at this stage indicates only government officials and the journalist have accessed the information apart from two files, accessed once by a private researcher in 2017.

What action have we taken to let people know their information was able to be accessed?

We understand and appreciate some people may be concerned their information could be accessed and we will continue to work to determine what further action is required. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has been informed and we will take their guidance around the issue.

What assurances can we give the public that no other files containing similar personal information can be accessed?

Archives NZ has notified the interagency co-ordination group involved with the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-based Institutions of this incident and asked that they consider the risks that they have similar historic records that might require a classification review.