Norwegians fear snooping at NAV

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Norway’s large social welfare agency NAV, which handles everything from pension payments to those for sick leave and unemployment, is under scrutiny after reports that NAV workers have snooped through the files of Norwegians receiving NAV benefits. Nearly 40 complaints have been filed in the past month by NAV clients who fear their privacy has been invaded.

More trouble at state welfare agence NAV as its IT director quits. PHOTO: Arbeids- og sosialdepartement

Some employees at state welfare agency NAV have been caught making unauthorized searches of clients’ files, and a crackdown is underway. PHOTO: Arbeids- og sosialdepartement

“This is not good,” Sigrun Vågeng, labour and welfare director at NAV, told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten after a report compiled by accounting agency BDO and law firm Wiersholm concluded that NAV employees have searched files of various NAV users without having any direct or professional need to do so.

The report has confirmed suspicions aired on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) last spring that NAV employees have snooped through the files of celebrities, family members, colleagues, friends and people applying for jobs at NAV. “Curiosity and their own selfish interests,” were the most likely reasons for the unauthorized searches, according to the report.

The report surveyed more than 8,000 NAV employees (around 40 percent of NAV’s total staff) and around 20 percent of those responding claimed they had heard of employees searching NAV clients’ files. Nearly 40 percent said they’d heard of at least two to five cases of such unauthorized searches.

Logs confirmed snooping
Analysis of NAV logs showed that at least one Norwegian celebrity, who was not identified, had been the target of searches by 108 various NAV employees. Earlier reports by the State Auditor General (Riksrevisjonen), privacy regulator Datatilsynet and NAV’s own internal auditors have also revealed deficient means of guarding privacy at NAV, and criticized how NAV handles its clients’ personal information.

NRK reported on Monday that NAV has now received a string of formal complaints filed by NAV clients with reason to believe their files have been illegally searched. “This can involve searches carried out on close family members or, for example, former spouses,” Torbjørn Larsen, who heads information technology at NAV, told NRK. In one case, a NAV manager was found to have engaged in extensive misuse of NAV’s data registers. She has since resigned under fire.

Larsen noted that NAV employees caught making unauthorized searches can either be warned or fired. Vågeng, who took over leadership of NAV just last year with an aim to reform various practices, has stated that the snooping is unacceptable and must be stopped.

“We have a lot of information about people, which is necessary for us to be able to do our jobs,” Vågeng told Aftenposten. “Users, however, must be assured that we handle their information in a responsible manner.”

Crackdown
Vågeng sent out a public appeal last month, asking NAV clients to report any suspicions that someone had snooped through their files. NAV quickly received 38 responses and Larsen told NRK that logs confirmed “several of them have had reason to be suspicious.”

Vågeng said that NAV is creating up a new position charged with assuring NAV clients’ privacy. A crackdown on unauthorized searches is underway, after criticism that NAV needs to improve both its routines and its work culture.

“NAV can have an incredible amount of information about us and how we live our lives,” Anne-Lise Kristensen, health and social ombud in Oslo, told NRK. “NAV needs to show more openness regarding who has had access to files.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

  • inquisitor

    Anytime I deal with NAV, I get everything in writing and keep my own copy.
    I also print out everything done online and digital and keep a hard copy for everything.
    I also audio record all interactions and verbal conversations with front desk people and other staff every time I may happen to go there.

    Experience has taught me how to deal with this organization.