Who’s looking in our homes?

Should we demand that people give up their privacy in exchange for getting to rent a house that doesn’t make them sick? Whare Hauora boss Hiria Te Rangi says a firm No


This is a post-ified version of a letter that Kaiwhakahaere/CEO of Whare Hauora, Hiria Te Rangi, sent to its email subscribers late last year. It’s important stuff so we’ve posted it here, with our editor’s additions in [square brackets].


Tēnā koe,

I’m writing to let you know of some worrying news from New Zealand’s new public landlord, Kāinga Ora. I’m hoping that you can help spread the word and join Whare Hauora in opposing their plan to invade their tenant’s privacy.

Background

Recently, Housing New Zealand and KiwiBuild merged to become Kāinga Ora -– the new public landlord for all of New Zealand’s state housing.

In 2019 they ran a pilot which put sensors into state homes to collect home health information (like temperature and humidity). 

With the pilot completed, they are now formally rolling out a Smart Homes project to many state homes, which will use sensors to measure temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide emissions and information on power usage.

At the end of last year, Kāinga Ora finished taking proposals from potential suppliers of home sensors so they can begin installing sensors in their tenant’s homes this year, but we believe urgent changes must be made before this happens.

Home sensors

Home sensors can be a great tool for knowing the temperature, humidity and electricity use in your home and whether something like dampness or cold could be making you sick. At Whare Hauora, we make home health sensors accessible to vulnerable families across New Zealand so we understand how they work and the power home health data holds.

The problem is, Kāinga Ora wants to measure a lot of personal things inside their tenants’ homes. This includes private things we don’t think it’s ethical to measure, like:

– When someone is at home.
– How many people are in the home.
– If someone has opened a window.
– When your curtains are closed or not.

The government will be collecting all this data and more, with no guarantee the information won’t be used against the tenants. And if that’s not bad enough, Kāinga Ora will own each family’s data, and won’t make it available to be seen by families themselves.

[Ed: the consequences of this are really serious.

Firstly, this is not normal or good practice. It’s not necessary: little not-for-profit Whare Hauora can achieve all the same results while respecting people’s privacy, so mega-agency Kāinga Ora can absolutely do the right thing.

And even if it was arguably necessary, New Zealand has privacy laws that regulate what government agencies are allowed to do with your data, precisely because what a government agency reckons are “necessary good reasons” can still be an unacceptable compromise of citizens’ privacy. The Privacy Act, while needing to be updated, already stipulates that government agencies must let people see their own data and imposes limits on how it may be gathered, used and kept, yet Kāinga Ora seems to be ignoring quite a few of these. What attitude does this signal, in what will be an extremely powerful government agency?

Secondly, the stakes for trusting government are higher in state housing situations. These days, many people in state homes tend to be there because they’re vulnerable: it’s often that or a garage, or the street. One’s trust in government tends to be pretty low when one is over a barrel and forced to make unpleasant choices. And trust is even lower when you have to submit to often dehumanising processes like applying for government assistance or support, where deeply personal and domestic information is taken and you’re judged on it.

If you tend to feel this way, how are you likely to feel about a spying box wired into your house that can tell the government every time your friends come over – but is ostensibly so they can monitor how you’re running your house, “for your own good”? If you weren’t paranoid before, it won’t take long.]

Will you help?

If Kāinga Ora’s pointlessly invasive data policy seems dodgy to you, please join us in demanding they scrap their home sensors project and start again with better ethics, engagement and transparency.

Your support would mean a lot to us, and there are a range of ways you can help:

  • Add your name to our open letter to Minister for Housing Dr Megan Woods demanding a stop to this project.
  • Share this RNZ story explaining what’s happening and make some noise for state housing tenants who deserve better.
  • Ask your networks to also sign and share to help hold Kāinga Ora accountable.
  • Keep this conversation going. Talk to friends, whanau, clients and advocates about this issue, and join back up with us next year as we keep fighting this project.
  • Reach out to us if you know of a whanau in state housing who’s worried about this and wants to chat. We can help explain what’s going on and how they can stand firm.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. We really appreciate any efforts to help spread the word now, because it’s never too soon or too busy to have a conversation about people’s right to privacy from the government.

Ngā mihi nui,

Hīria Te Rangi
Kaiwhakahaere / Chief Executive
Whare Hauora


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