Activist cancels benefit to protest lax security

A beneficiary rights activist has cancelled her benefit to draw attention to the vulnerability of beneficiaries’ private information following the revelation that thousands of private files were accessible through public internet kiosks at WINZ offices.

Olive McRae, a domestic purposes beneficiary and spokesperson for Welfare Justice Dunedin, said she believed the incident was the largest breach of privacy of a government organisation in New Zealand history.

“I have been raising concerns about the systemic institutional disregard for privacy within MSD for the past two years,” Ms McRae said. “This large scale privacy breach is shocking but not surprising. What’s worse is that these issues have been raised time and time again by clients and advocacy groups across the country.”

“In 2009 the Minister accessed client’s personal information and leaked it to the media for political point scoring. The Human Rights Commission and the Privacy Commission raised concerns and ruled that her actions constituted a breach of privacy.”

“The Minister refused to accept their findings, and threatened to do it again. Earlier this year we had ten WINZ staff fired for accessing client’s private information. And now we find that the entire IT infrastructure is in jeopardy.” 

“Although the Ministry of Social Development had advised they would investigate the kiosk privacy issue they had no plans to deal with the broader issue of privacy in WINZ” she said. “The MSD refused to accept there was any issue with privacy of client’s files.”

“I went to WINZ on seeking some assurances about my privacy, and requested my information be taken off the database and stored in hard copy until I could have an assurance from an independent auditor that my information was protected. I was assured the IT specialists were working until late at night trying to action my request. However I later found out that’s not the case.”

“My information isn’t secure, so I see no option but to forfeit my benefit until they address my concern. I hope that my landlord won’t kick me out too fast, and the electricity company doesn’t cut the power right away”

 Olive McRae’s letter to WINZ

To Work & Income Dunedin Central Office,

I am formally requesting all documentation on my file that is held within your computer system to be immediately removed from your data base. I formally request and give consent for all such information to be manually copied and held in hard copy only. Given the systemic privacy issues that MSD continue to experience, I no longer authorise any of the documentation that relates to me or my children to be held on your insecure system.

I have a right to protected privacy, which is something MSD cannot assure any clients of at this time. I expect this done immediately and without delay as my privacy and the privacy and safety of my children may currently be at risk.I will wait for this to be done in the waiting area, and I would like a statement from a manager that this task has been completed for verification purposes.

Donations to support Olive and her children during her time without other income can be deposited into the account 38 9010 0754683 00


  1. How is cancelling her benefit going to help feed her kids, unless she has a supplementary income? I’m all for activists taking a stand, but this is a bloody stupid, idea as her children will pay the price for her actions. I’m sure Paula Bennett would welcome ALL beneficiaries taking this stance, and will make it darn hard for beneficiaries to get back ON the benefit, which they’re entitled to, when they are desperate and in need.

    • she is being supported by donations of money and food, and like most DBP recipients is looking for a job

  2. I have nothing against what she is fighting against, just her, what I consider to be, irresponsible methodology. Not every beneficiary is fortunate enough to be supported by whanau members who have money, most of them have been ‘born into poverty’, not ‘fallen’ into it. I agree with her stance on the removal of her information from the database, but as an advocate and spokesperson for beneficiaries, she should be fighting to strengthen the welfare system and support systems for beneficiaries, not encouraging people to opt out of it altogether. She is going to have a hell of a job getting her benefit reinstated, if, or when, she may need to, realistically, there ARE next to no jobs out there. I hope other beneficiaries haven’t taken up on her lead.

    • While sharing some of your tactical questions, I think it’s important not to make assumptions about personal circumstances. Being supported through donations does not necessarily mean relying on money from blood family.

      • I agree. I was wrong, and have apologised to Olive for doing so, admitting that I can be both impulsive and presumptuous at times. In saying this however, she has mentioned that she is fortunate to have union support, activist support and the support of some individuals so that she can risk cancelling her benefit, others aren’t that fortunate, so I wasn’t wrong at least, in ‘assuming’ that she was receiving funding from ‘somewhere.’

  3. If she is being supported by others while seeking a job then why should I pay taxes to support her?

  4. I understand what you’re saying Ian, but Olive and I have crossed paths before, I do know a fair bit about her. I just wanted voice a different perspective of this scenario, so that potential beneficiaries are aware of what they may get themselves into if they follow this stance.

  5. Workers Prty for a Bene ? Isn’t that an oxymoron.
    Honestly Olive pull ya head in before your kids suffer.

  6. Get a job and stop procreating and expecting hard working parents to support you

    • I agree with Olive; her data should be secure.

      She can ensure this is the case by losing her pathetic sense of entitlement and getting a job in the private sector or, better still, starting her own independent business.

      If there were less government, there would be less government incompetency.

  7. Idiot! now fatboy at whaleoil has latched onto it?

  8. If she gets a job then WINZ have no info about her or the kids. Simple. Taxpayer is happy also.

  9. The words “Get a job” only serve to prove how politically unaware the people are speaking them. Even John Key and Paula Bennett have admitted that there aren’t enough jobs for those seeking them, though they’d much rather spend money bashing the poor, than creating jobs. My issue with cancelling a benefit is that it isn’t going to hurt a ‘Corporation’, it is only going to penalise the children involved, and it definitely wont do anything to remove personal information from government servers. In all other aspects, I admire Olive McRae in her determination to fight for the poor, just not on this ONE action is all. I have since learnt that WINZ have written a letter to Olive McRae, refusing to cancel her benefit, so it hasn’t been cancelled anyway, well… Not yet.

  10. wisewoman says:

    Once again we have Alison Withers running down an activist not doing things “her” way. Please stop doing it. You weaken us all and you dissipate your energy. Olive is doing something she believes is right as an individual. She is not exhorting anyone else to follow suit. If people want to support her, that is their business AND HAS NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH YOU. Please stop it now.

  11. Don Franks says:

    As a reader of this thread who knows none of the protagonists personally, I see the thrust of Alison’s posts as disagreement on political tactics.
    There is nothing wrong with that at all.
    Political tactics are everyones business.
    If we want to progress we will argue out tactics and strategy in an open way and then, as far as possible, act on a collective basis.

    • In my world, googling a person whose political tactics you do not agree with, and using that (out of date) information to try and discredit the person personally is not questioning political tactics, but bullying. Alison was furious when people in Dunedin organised a WINZ day of action because it was not done by experienced people. SInce when do grassroots actions have to be approved of a by a centralised committee?

  12. My sole point is that cancelling a benefit, which is an entitlement to help support the children of beneficiaries, will not remove personal information from a server, also, the personal information of ALL of us, is not isolated to being stored on the WINZ kiosk computers, as all information has been amalgamated and backed up on government, external databases and servers. At a guess, I’d say that ‘wisewoman’ is Penny Bright, yet another ‘independent activist’ that I, and many others have clashed with, particularly since she published the personal information of a known Activist on a right wing blog, and insulted Socialist Aotearoa, Joe Carolan and other associated SA members, quite publicly on a video recently.

    • Alison, you should know by now that assumption is the mother of all cock ups. I am a small nobody in the scheme of you Important Activists, not Penny Bright who I do not think I would recognise from a bar of soap. I am however, someone who would not like to be stalked by you or subjected to you tactics. That was not your sole point at all. The fact that you have published personal information about Olive on various facebook pages tells me you have an agenda, and that you are no better than the person who you are cracking into here. My sole point is stop wasting energy – yours and other people’s

      • NOTsowisewoman, personal information about Olive? No. I have only published information that can be publicly accessed by anyone on google, the same link you can see right here on this blog post. Don’t flatter yourself, I wouldn’t stalk your ass if it was the last ass on earth, but unlike you, I don’t hide like a coward behind an anonymous name. I have commended Olive for taking a stand in requesting that her personal information be removed from the computers, I just don’t agree with her cancelling her benefit, what are you wanting me to do? Concede and agree with her decision to deprive herself and her child of an entitlement? In which case, no, I wont. Quit behaving like such a drama queen.

  13. AW,

    While challenging other’s tactics is fine, you seem either motivated by a personal or political agenda, or else incapable of reading and listening to others.

    Your objection to Olive’s “methodology” is that cancelling her benefit would deprive herself and her child. This is false as others already pointed out that her action has political and financial support from union and other groups.

    In contrast to this solidarity, your earlier presumptive claim that Olive was recieving money from family, and thus in a privileged position relative to individuals “born” into welfare poverty, divides beneficiaries while unwittingly supporting a deserving/underserving poor distinction.

    You also object to Olive’s “methodolgy” because it “encourages” other beneficiaries to take the same actions and thus deprive themselves and their children. Yet nowhere does Olive ask for or encourage similar actions. You insult beneficiaries intelligence and parental skills by suggesting they’d cancel their benefits and only means of survival just because they heard some relatively minor activist — who has alternative support — cancelled her benefit to make a political point. Like we really need you to “make us aware of what they may get themselves into if they follow this stance” — how patronizing!

    Finally, you condemn one of the posters as a “coward” for using an anonymous username, naively assuming everyone is in a safe and privileged position to openly criticize existing political and economic powers in a public forum accessible to employers, government agencies, fascists etc.

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