Prime Minister responds to hundreds of blocked porn attempts in ministries

The AM Show 12/11/2019

The Prime Minister has made her expectations for public servants clear after it was revealed multiple Government departments have blocked staff accessing pornography.

Documents obtained by Newshub under the Official Information Act reveal staff at several ministries had their access to explicit material blocked hundreds of times.

This included civil servants at the Ministry of Māori Development and the Department of Conservation. However, some ministries say it isn't always clear whether the searches are deliberate or if people are being referred to the sites via pop-ups or adverts.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told The AM Show on Tuesday that civil servants need to follow the guidelines of their workplace.

My expectation is simply that everyone within our civil service follows the guidelines that they have been given.

"Obviously there are some examples there that suggest that have not always been the case," she said.

"We have tens of thousands of public servants in New Zealand and we have an expectation that, of course, they follow the guidelines of their workplaces."

The AM Show host Duncan Garner mentioned one URL that was attempted to be accessed including the term "sexboys". Ardern said she hadn't seen the exact websites accessed.

"I can't say I have looked at a breakdown of the sites that may have potentially been tried to be accessed."

But Ardern also said the news should serve as a reminder, not just for public servants, but also for others, that their employers may be watching what they're doing.

"It is a timely reminder for all of our employees. There will be a number of people sitting out there who won't be in the civil service, who will be suddenly reminding themselves that their workplace will probably have a little bit of an idea of what they are doing in their work hours."

She said she expects the State Services Commissioner will talk to ministry chief executives about the searches, but she won't be asking for a formal inquiry.

Deputy State Services Commissioner Helene Quilter earlier released a statement on the matter to Newshub.

"The public service has clear standards of integrity and conduct. If there is evidence an agency device has been used in an unacceptable manner, it is the State Services Commission's expectation that the chief executive takes appropriate action."

The documents showed, among staff from other ministries, Department of Conservation staff have been blocked from accessing pornography websites 148 times since January 29.

A spokesperson said they are satisfied staff are not accessing pornographic sites as they "wouldn't even be aware their computer was trying to access these sites". 

"As you know URLs for porn sites are frequently embedded in legitimate sites which mean people can be referred or directed to blocked sites," the spokesperson said.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Jamie Ensor