30 January 2017

Public servants may have access to a range of sensitive and confidential information that is held by their agency, and this guidance sets out the high standards they must live up to when handling this information.

State servants may have access to a range of sensitive and confidential information that is held by their agency (government information).

Government information must be treated with care, following the law and agency policies and procedures.

Information held in confidence should not be released unless the Chief Executive has authorised it and the release meets legal and ethical obligations.

State servants have to meet high standards to maintain the trust and confidence of the public and Ministers.

Chief executives must ensure their agency’s policies and procedures about handling information are followed. Chief executives must also ensure that all staff understand their obligations in dealing with information.

Questions to make you think

  • What is Government information?
  • How do I know what information I can release?


“Government information” includes any information held by an agency which is not yet or may never be made public. Some examples include the information people provide when they apply for State services, information contained in official documents like Cabinet Papers and sensitive information (such as commercial, defence or security-related information).

How we treat this information - collect it, store it, share it and use it – affects public trust; and whether the public is happy to keep entrusting their information to us so we can do our jobs.

There is a lot of government information in the public domain. Members of the public can request access to agency information through the Official Information Act 1982 and the Privacy Act 1993. Each agency has guidance about how requests for official and personal information should be dealt with. You can check with your manager if in doubt about what you need to do.  Chief executives are accountable for the release of government information by their agency.

The policies and procedures that State Service agencies need to have in place to protect information and to ensure it is managed appropriately enable us to comply with the:

  • Official Information Act 1982
  • Privacy Act 1993
  • Public Records Act 2005

Our Code of Conduct

  • The Standards of Integrity and Conduct (the Code) requires staff and their organisations to be fair, impartial, responsible, and trustworthy.  When considering approaches from MPs you must:
    • Treat information with care and use it only for proper purposes
    • Act lawfully and objectively
    • Ensure our actions are not affected by our personal interests or relationships
    • Never misuse our position for personal gain


Request for a sneak preview SSC guidance
Jed is working on a new government health policy.  A process of external consultation on the policy is about to start.  A stakeholder from an interest group contacts Jed, asking for a preview of the consultation document. What should Jed do? Jed should not provide the draft information and should refer to the agency’s Communications team about what information is appropriate to communicate at this time.  Any information of this nature released by the agency should be in final, approved form and authorised for release by the chief executive or her delegate.  The approval process may involve senior management and even Ministers in viewing a document before it is publicly released.  With the release of much government information, it is also important that all interested parties receive the same information from the agency at the same time.
Stephanie is managing a procurement process involving three different companies that are tendering for a contract worth approx. NZD$5M.  Stephanie leaves work that night with the tender documents open on her desk. She is distracted as there has been an emergency at home with her kids so she has forgotten to lock these away. There are legal and regulatory requirements to follow in keeping commercially sensitive information confidential.  Leaving the documents in a place where they can be readily accessed by unauthorised staff, contractors or others poses a significant risk to the security of the information.  This oversight can affect the trust of procurers in the agency and the tender process.  More importantly, it can give rise to a security breach, with serious consequences to the reputation of the agency and for the responsible chief executive and Minister.

Further Guidance

The Office of the Ombudsman

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner

Archives has guidance on keeping public records Archives New Zealand