Does Westpac deserve to lose customers for releasing personal information to police without a court order?
Click the NBR Radio box for on-demand special feature audio: Head of banking studies at Massey University David Tripe talks about Westpac and Nicky Hager
Westpac is doubling down on its assertions that it did the right thing in handing over details of Nicky Hager’s bank accounts to police without a warrant or a court order.
The bank, which has just been re-confirmed as the government’s banker for another eight years, has said it was following its internal policy for assisting investigations into serious crimes.
A Westpac spokesman is refusing to say what his bank’s policy actually is.
“We don’t give the policy out because it’s an internal policy,” the spokesman says.
The police were investigating the hacking of Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater's email and social media accounts.
The head of banking studies at Massey University, David Tripe, says it looks as though Westpac “jumped the gun” and may have problems as a result.
“I would have thought it would have been prudent to wait for a warrant. That would’ve been quite unexceptional behaviour,” Mr Tripe says.
Releasing Mr Hager’s details without a warrant could be seen as Westpac “taking a bit of a position” but it was probably not well considered.
“It’s possible that the decision was taken at a very low level by somebody who didn’t think about it very hard,” Mr Tripe says.
“Knowing the way banks work, that wouldn’t be surprising.”
A public backlash could see Westpac reconsidering its position.
“It may be it will change its minds about defending itself once it has thought about it a bit harder,” he says.
“Handing over private information does need to be handled with care.”
NBR has asked the other banks if they have a policy on handling requests for information on individual customers’ affairs from police or other government authorities.
So far, only the government-owned Kiwibank has responded.
“Kiwibank policy is not to release information unless requirements have been met by the police or other government agency,” a spokesman says.
“Kiwibank is obliged to cooperate with law enforcement agencies. Kiwibank can confirm account details for an individual on request from the police,” he says.
“A police production order is required to provide any transactional data for an individual and a search warrant is required for a company.”
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