Air NZ wins access to sacked flight attendant's Facebook, bank accounts

Privacy advocate "shocked" at "horrible" ERA decision - and sees perhaps unintended complications.

Privacy group Tech Liberty has slammed an Employment Relations Authority interim determination to grant Air New Zealand access to a sacked flight attendant's Facebook and bank accounts.

Flight attendant Gina Trudy Kensington was dismissed by the airline after she claimed March 8 and 9 as sick leave to look after her sister.

The airline said the two days were not used as sick leave; Ms Kensington took her case to the ERA.

In a newly-released determination, dated August 1 and first reported by Fairfax, ERA member Tania Tetitaha directs Ms Kensington to hand over copies of her Facebook and bank records for March 8 and 9 because:

The explanation for taking sick leave must be tested for veracity. The evidence sought to be admitted is veracity evidence showing places and activities the applicant was undertaking on relevant dates she is alleged to have taken sick leave. It shall be substantially helpful to the Authority in determining whether there was any subsequently discovered conduct and its impact (if any) upon remedies.

Facebook information has been used in dismissal cases before, but not in combination with bank records. Employment lawyer Andrew Scott-Howman says Facebook access will become more and more common.

"I'm quite shocked by the ERA decision," Tech Liberty founder Thomas Beagle tells NBR Online.

"The ERA seems to be saying that employees have no privacy rights when it comes to their employer," Mr Beagle says.

"There is a big difference between employers looking at publicly available information on Facebook and asking for login information to view people's private communications. Facebook has private messaging and restricted groups - for example, close family only - and this decision would give the employer full access to them."

Combining bank account and Facebook access sets the precedent for giving them access to everything we do online, from email to chat to forums, Mr Beagle says.

"Employers should not have the rights to snoop on everything we do. We wouldn't let them search our homes on demand and we shouldn't let them ransack our online lives looking for dirt.

"Even worse, when you give up your Facebook or email login information you're not only losing your own privacy, you're also giving up the privacy of the people who have communicated with you. For example, you might have been using Facebook chat to talk to a close friend about the sexual abuse they suffered as a child. Why should these people all be exposed to the sticky beaks who the person works for just because there is an employment dispute?"

There are also possible legal issues around privilege, Mr Beagle says. "What if the person involved had been talking to their lawyer about this employment issue?"

"This is a horrible decision. We all have the right to privacy and we need to strengthen the Privacy Act to make sure it never happens again."

A major overhaul of the Privacy Act is in train, and expected before Parliament later this year.

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