Privacy Commissioner could investigate alleged recording
The Privacy Commissioner is considering investigating the alleged taping of a staff member by National MP Todd Barclay, after receiving a complaint about the matter.
It is understood Glenys Dickson, a former staffer at Barclay’s electorate office, lodged the complaint after becoming concerned she had been secretly recorded.
There have been calls for Barclay to stand down after an explosive day at Parliament on Tuesday following a Newsroom investigation into the first-term MP’s conduct.
Prime Minister Bill English’s judgment has also been called into question after he admitted telling police Barclay had spoken to him about recording staff – just hours after he repeatedly said he could not recall.
The Privacy Commissioner investigation adds to a number of ongoing inquiries into the situation.
National’s rules committee, tasked with providing legal advice and support to the party board, is understood to be investigating claims swirling around Barclay’s selection as the Clutha-Southland candidate.
These include allegations of a rushed process, improper votes and “delegate stacking” with his family members and supporters.
The police have also announced they will take another look at their investigation into Barclay, in light of the new information.
No charges were initially laid against Barclay despite strong evidence he secretly recorded his former staffer Glenys Dickson.
When interviewed by Newsroom for the first time, Dickson said she held serious concerns about the privacy of the electorate’s constituents.
Some of the conversations that could have been recorded were highly confidential, she said.
"He would've recorded me talking to constituents, to other people, and some people came and spoke to me about very sensitive issues, health issues, some women who didn't like to speak to the MP because he was a man would come and talk to me about things like that. And it's very difficult to know the period of time, but on a weekly daily-basis you would be dealing with very sensitive issues.
"I was very stressed I have to say, I just couldn't believe that that would happen, and I was very concerned not only for myself but for the constituents because no-one knew where that information was and we still don't know."
When contacted, a spokesperson for the Privacy Commissioner said the office was unable to comment.
Privacy lawyer Katrine Evans, a former assistant Privacy Commissioner, said from what had been reported in the media it appeared there would be a strong case.
The Privacy Act contained a clause that exempted MPs who were acting in an official capacity, but it had limitations.
It only applied when an MP's actions were subject to Parliament’s oversight and acting in their official capacity.
When acting as an employer, they would not be covered by the exemption.
An initial step in any investigation of a privacy breach would have to decide if the exemption applied to the Barclay/Dickson scenario, she said.
“The context of the discussions in the media certainly made it look like it was more of an employment situation … so I think there would be quite a strong argument that he actually would be an agency (someone who held personal information) and covered by the privacy principles.”
If there had been a recording the legality of it would be a factor in any privacy investigation, as it was a breach of the Privacy Act to collect personal information in an unlawful manner.
Consideration would also be given to whether the collection of the information had been unreasonably intrusive.
“I think there are potentially arguments over each of those headings, the illegality of if you weren’t a party to the conversation and then unfairness and unreasonable intrusion if you’ve left it in a place where you’re going to pick up people’s private conversations, then that’s potentially a major problem.”
Watch: The full investigation story on Newsroom
Watch: Todd Barclay responds to Newsroom's questions
Read: The timeline of events leading to Newsroom's investigation
Read: Barclay payout raises questions over leader's fund
Help us create a sustainable future for independent local journalism
As New Zealand moves from crisis to recovery mode the need to support local industry has been brought into sharp relief.
As our journalists work to ask the hard questions about our recovery, we also look to you, our readers for support. Reader donations are critical to what we do. If you can help us, please click the button to ensure we can continue to provide quality independent journalism you can trust.