Whanganui students' details leaked in 'massive human error'

Vandhna Bhan
Source: 1News

The information of around 600 students at Whanganui Intermediate school has been leaked, in what’s being described as a “massive human error”.

Parents accidentally received an email this morning from the school, which was seemingly about mask wearing policies, but the attachment contained 145 pages of student and caregiver details and health records.

One concerned parent, Kevin (he didn’t want his surname revealed), reached out to 1News saying: “I spent five years working in the justice sector, so all my details are kept private.

"Now all of a sudden my details are out there for anyone to see. My safety, my whānau’s safety is now at risk because of that, and I won’t be the only one at that school that’s working in the justice sector no doubt there will be police officers, nurses, lawyers."

Gehan Gunasekara, the Chair of the Privacy Foundation New Zealand, agreed the details being sent out are "concerning".

“The consequences for the children and parents could be quite concerning. In a town that is known to have gang affiliations some parents may not want other parents to know where they live,” Gunasekara says.

Concerned parents have also been taking to social media to voice their frustrations saying its “bloody terrible”, “absolutely inexcusable” and “not acceptable at all”.

1News understands Whanganui Intermediate sent out follow-up emails this morning saying they’ve “now received legal advice” and the original email was a “breach of privacy” including for anyone who shares the information.

They blame it on a “massive human error” and that they’re working with the Ministry of Education and police to try and minimise the damage caused.

“I think for people just to say, ‘oh this is a slip up, an accident, and we're sorry about that’ is really not good enough because this could be a really serious matter and put a lot of lives at risk,” says Kevin.

The school has not replied to 1News’ emails, but the Ministry of Education says the school is doing everything it can to protect those affected and the Privacy Commissioner has been notified.

They went on to say should anyone want to make a personal complaint about the privacy breach they should contact the school.

Gunasekara says slips like this should be a wake-up call, and while it’s often high-risk agencies we pay attention to, it’s schools that are the point of weakness and the privacy act applies to them too.

All agencies that are covered by the Privacy Act must have a privacy officer now and Gunasekara questions just “how many organisations in New Zealand have a privacy officer, how many staff are training on the privacy act and also how many of them exercise to check what to do if there was a breach”.

“All agencies in New Zealand need to take privacy seriously and we focus on only when a breach happens it’s too late, it’s the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. We need to start putting more fences and agencies like schools need to be especially vigilant,” he says.

For Kevin, this was an avoidable accident that he’s concerned is now leaving families and students exposed by the people who should be looking out for them.

“There needs to be reassurances for us as parents and caregivers that we entrust our rangatahi with them for such a big period of their lives, that they are protected and their information is protected,” he says.