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120,000 reasons for bringing Wellington parking services back to the council

by Lindsay Shelton
The Wellington City Council now has a ready-made reason to bring its parking services in-house.

The idea has been discussed for ages, including during the election campaign [1], at the same time as there’ve been plaintive complaints about unkind parking wardens [2]. Not that anyone has explained how the parking wardens would change their attitude if they had a different employer. And of course the parking wardens have themselves been complaining this week, about the fact that they won’t benefit from the “living wage” that’s to be paid to council employees starting next month.

Anyway, council chief executive Kevin Laverty has today apologised unreservedly to all the drivers whose 120,000 parking tickets [3] were released by his council’s parking services contractor. Someone asked for information. The contractor, after the request was received, worked hard to respond. Over a three-month period it sent out information from two years of ticketing. All the information, including the names and addresses of vehicle owners, and the registration numbers of their vehicles. “Inadvertently.”

It’s an extraordinary privacy breach. And the council has known about it since last month, though it didn’t tell anyone till today, with a rather garbled and unconvincing explanation of the long delay:

We had to determine exactly what information had been provided and when. We have been in contact with the requestor to get the disks back and to give him the information he wants. We have been working with the requestor to secure the return of the disks and he has cooperated fully. Our announcement is to confirm the security of that information.

And though the information was given only to one person, how do we know that he didn’t pass it on to anyone else. The council’s reply isn’t exactly reassuring:

The Council’s Chief Executive, Kevin Lavery, and other senior managers have personally met with the requestor. He has given us assurances that he has not copied the disks or retained or used the personal information. We emphasise he was the unintended recipient of personal information in this issue. He returned the disks earlier this week.

Those of us who’ve lived in Wellington for long enough will know that the city has a long and curious history of controlling its parking meters. There’s been at least one fascinating case of council employees who collected money from the meters and failed to pass it on to the council. But there’s never before been anyone who decided to hand out personal information from parking tickets. Let alone from 120,000 of them. There must be a lot of spare time inside the offices of the council’s parking services contractor.

The deplorable mistake gives a strong reason for the city council to reconsider how its parking spaces are controlled. There was a review last year, but it didn’t satisfy some councillors [4]. Now’s the time to be more decisive.