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“What is NIWA hiding?” – Wishart questions as NIWA blocks Privacy Act bid by claiming IT system can’t search by keywords

In brief
  • Journalist Ian Wishart questions NIWA’s inability to comply with the Privacy Act.
  • NIWA claims its IT system lacks the capability to perform a basic keyword search by name, hindering their obligation to comply with the Privacy Act.
  • Wishart suggests NIWA’s either hiding damning emails or lacks basic competence.

NIWA has an extremely poor computer system

Last year, journalist Rachel Smalley used the Privacy Act to force Pharmac to release internal staff emails and messages discussing Smalley’s investigation into the drug-buying agency.

Last month, investigative journalist Ian Wishart sought a similar release from NIWA, which has faced a year of embarrassing revelations at the hands of Wishart about the shocking state of its climate research databases. They  don’t seem to contain accurate historical storm data, historic rainfall data or – in the latest report – accurate temperature data.

Wishart says NIWA has refused to engage with the faults found in their methodology and has continued to make the same mistakes, so he is pursuing NIWA’s internal documentation to shed light on whether NIWA is trying to ride out the controversy.

The Privacy Act is pretty straightforward:

Information privacy principle #6
Access to personal information
1An individual is entitled to receive from an agency upon request—
(a)confirmation of whether the agency holds any personal information about them; and
(b)access to their personal information.
2If an individual concerned is given access to personal information, the individual must be advised that, under IPP 7, the individual may request the correction of that information.

A person is only required to identify themselves by name, naturally, as there is no other national ID system.

However, NIWA media liaison Melissa Bray has made the stunning claim that NIWA’s IT system can’t even do a keyword search by name, making it impossible for the government-owned research agency to comply with its legal obligations under the Privacy Act.


“Thank you for your Privacy Act request,” begins Bray’s email. “Our IT search function is unable to search using just an individual name. For us to complete your request we will need you to refine your request.”

“What is NIWA hiding?” – Wishart questions as NIWA blocks Privacy Act bid by claiming IT system can’t search by keywords - Centrist
Keyword search has been available for more than a quarter of a century. Image: YouTube

No details are given of what kind of refinement NIWA was seeking.

Wishart says he was gobsmacked:

“I knew NIWA’s computer infrastructure was bad, but this is an incredibly damaging admission by NIWA. The ability to search a computer system by keywords or phrases has existed since Windows 98, so in my view NIWA is either lying in order to hide potentially explosive emails and messages from being released, or New Zealand is truly home to a very incompetent climate research agency. I can’t see any other possible option.

“No wonder NIWA doesn’t know our real storm, rainfall and temperature records if they can’t do a simple keyword search.

“Unfortunately for NIWA I didn’t come down in the last rain shower, so I’m leaning to the theory that their internal communications regarding  my investigations over the past year would be so damaging to NIWA’s credibility that they’ll try  to keep them hidden, even to the point of ridiculous claims like this.”

Feature image: Prosperosity

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