Westpac wrong to release 'Dirty Politics' author's bank records: Privacy Commissioner

Privacy Commissioner takes issue with Westpac belief that all customers have authorised disclosure of information to the police.

The Privacy Commissioner has censured Westpac Banking Corp for releasing, without a court order, more than 10 months of bank records belonging to the political activist and journalist Nicky Hager during a police investigation into leaked information published in Hager's 2014 pre-election book, Dirty Politics.

In a decision released today, commissioner John Edwards also takes issue with Westpac's suggestion during his investigation into the release that the bank appears to believe "that every customer has authorised the disclosure of all of their information from each of their accounts to police for whatever reason police give, without recourse to production of orders or other authorities."

"I simply cannot accept that is a well-founded belief," said Edwards in a three-page decision that stopped short of sending Hager's complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal, in part because Westpac said it had subsequently changed its policy. "As a general proposition, it seems untenable that Westpac would genuinely hold this belief. I am sure it would come as a surprise to Westpac's customers that this were so."

He did not agree that, by accepting Westpac's terms and conditions, Hager had "authorised such disclosure."

Westpac had argued that its standard terms and conditions allowed the release of information to the police, which occurred under an understanding that it and other banks had that allowed the release of information without a formal court order where the police said they were investigating fraud.

In a statement coinciding with the decision, Hager said the decision was important for the light it might shed on apparently widespread informal requests for private records from private companies by government agencies and noting the Westpac information release, without need for a warrant where a fraud investigation was under way, was "an agreement that the police had reached with all New Zealand banks."

The police had "falsely" claimed to Westpac it was conducting a fraud investigation.

Dirty Politics included a large amount of material that was politically damaging to the National Party-led government shortly before the September 20, 2014, general election, sourced from an anonymous informant known only as 'Rawshark', whose identity has never been revealed.

Hager only became aware of the Westpac release to the police under court discovery rules.

(BusinessDesk)

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