State Services Commission deputy commissioner Ross Tanner says there is no central policy in place to ensure that disks from government departments' machines are adequately cleaned.
"It's up to the department concerned," he says. "There is no longer any centralised policy for anything like that. The chief executives of each department are responsible."
If computers were proved to have come from a department with data still on the drives, "I'd be wanting to ask questions of the senior executives. I would expect every department to have a procedure in place to ensure that if computers are being disposed of, data is adequately cleaned from them."
Frank March, at the IT policy group in the Ministry of Economic Development, confirms this. "There is no formal policy about disposal of equipment other than a requirement on departments to be financially prudent in disposal, which I understand to mean that the department should get maximum possible value." This is a policy of Audit NZ.
This works against the establishment of a central recycling scheme, he suggests, since such schemes - for example, that which is under the auspices of Wellington's 2020 Trust - are generally set up with schools and non-profit organisations as the main target recipients. They expect to get the machines for free or at a very nominal cost.
"We [the policy group] have considered that the 2020 Trust's computer recycling scheme should be supported by government departments," but this has not been the case to date. The views of the group have no official government policy status, he emphasises.
"The result of not having a proper recycling scheme is exactly this sort of thing. People have gifted equipment [in an uncoordinated way]. It's not been checked for quality, data is not cleaned off and mistakes like that happen."
The trust, a spokeswoman says, has a strict policy of ensuring that computers it distributes are clean. This is managed in conjunction with partner Ark Recycling - the company from which Computerworld obtained the computers in question.
"We clean [the disk drives] ourselves," says Department of Work and Income spokeswoman Kate Joblin. "We then send them to a company called Encore Auctions which repeats the process."
Computerworld quoted the serial number of the machine with DWI information on it, and a check confirms that the machine did not come from DWI offices, Joblin says.
The reply from the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is equally definite. "We have not recycled any PCs for at least 12 months," says spokesman Brent Anderson. For the last three years, he says, hard drives have been removed from all recycled machines and destroyed.
"And we use IBM and Compaq. We have never had a Digital Venturis PC. So it looks like it didn't come from us." A number of departments prepare draft correspondence for the Prime Minister, he says.