Monday, December 4, 2006

Les Neilson is no longer a New Zealand emergency call operator on 111 in Wellington as he checked up on the background of his potential girlfriends. Mr Neilson said that he will take his case to the Employment Relations Authority as he claims that everyone is doing it and he is being made a scapegoat.

Mr. Nielson was fired in April of this year because of “inappropriate accessing and disclosure of police information.”

Mr. Neilson said: “Many police regularly look up acquaintances and friends on the database. I’ve basically been screwed for doing something that’s a common practice. I’ve used the information the same as everyone else has. If I’m socialising with people and I’m meeting new partners then I need to know the background of those partners because I don’t want to put myself or the department in a compromising position.” He did it “to protect himself and the organisation.”

Mr. Neilson had worked with the New Zealand police for 20 years and has used the background checker “…for the last 20 years.”

However he never sold the information to third parties and never used it for personal gain. “I have not disclosed the information to anyone. I’ve given an explanation. If they investigate it they’ll find out it’s a very legitimate explanation.”

“There’s nothing that says I can’t do that…”

Howard Broad, Police Commissioner, said: “Staff knew it was wrong to access the database for personal use. If they do, it’s wrong and they would know that it’s wrong. It’s quite a clear breach.”

Police can be sued for accessing police information which contain addresses, vehicle details, family, gang links, etc., according to Scott Optican, associate law professor at Auckland University, as it is private information. “The revelation was a significant breach of privacy and police could face lawsuits as well as formal complaints. Police had a duty to investigate how many people had accessed the database for personal use, and what they did with that information. If it looks like there were consequences [for the person who was looked up], they need to contact that person and find out what happened.”

The information regarding name and address is said to be worth between NZ$100 and $200 alone to private investigators and debt collectors.

Mr. Nielson is working as a private investigator in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand.

“How many of the general public would be upset that the local policeman or someone working for the police checks up on them, or who’s in the street, or checks up on potential tenants for flats or aunts’ and uncles’ criminal histories?” Mr. Neilson said.

A spokeswoman for the police headquarters said: “The police organisation is intolerant of any abuses of information that is held. As this case illustrates, action will be taken against any staff member who seeks to use police information for purposes unrelated to their duties.” She would not comment any further due to the case being before the Employment Relations Authority.

Greg O’Conner, president of the Police Association, said that their union had reminded members to be aware of their use of police information and facilities. “Operation Insider, which investigated the distribution of pornographic e-mails among police, had highlighted the importance of using such facilities appropriately.”

“Quite frankly, I think the police should explain to members of the public exactly what happened here and what they’ll do to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Mr. Optican said.

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