Friday, 3 March 2017

#NotMyDebt: it has spite writ large all over it

Despite any current or future ministerial or departmental denials, ‘explanations’ or excuses, I find it hard to believe that this 22 February 2017 end of business day release of a Centrelink client’s personal, sensitive, protected information to a journalist was accidental.

Particularly as this act was clearly repeated.

It has spite writ large all over it.

The Guardian, 2 March 2017:

The office of human services minister, Alan Tudge, mistakenly sent a journalist internal departmental briefings about a welfare recipient’s personal circumstances, which included additional detail on her relationship and tax history.

Senior departmental figures were grilled at Senate estimates on Thursday about the release of welfare recipient Andie Fox’s personal information last month.

Fox had written an opinion piece critical of Centrelink and its handling of her debt, which ran in Fairfax Media in February. The government released her personal details to Fairfax journalist Paul Malone, who subsequently published a piece attacking Fox and questioning the veracity of her claims.

Two responses were given to the journalist, one from the department of human services and the other from Tudge.

The department said its response – three dot points containing only minimal detail on Fox’s personal history – was cleared by lawyers and was lawful. The minister’s office then added two quotes from Tudge and sent its own response to Malone.

Guardian Australia can now reveal that the minister’s office also accidentally sent the journalist two internal briefing documents, marked “for official use only”, which had been prepared by the department.

Those documents contained additional information on Fox and her personal circumstances, which went beyond the dot points prepared by the department. They included further detail of her relationship history, including when she separated from her partner.

Those documents were then sent to Malone. The documents were also mistakenly sent to Guardian Australia when it raised questions about the disclosure of Fox’s personal information.

No mention of those documents was made in Senate estimates on Thursday, despite repeated questioning of what the minister had disclosed to Malone. Tudge’s office has now conceded the documents were sent to Malone in error. But the office says it was of no consequence, because all of their contents had been legally cleared by the department.

A welfare recipient’s personal details are considered protected information under social security law, and any unlawful disclosure is considered a criminal offence. Earlier, the department told estimates that social security law only allowed it to disclose the minimal amount of information needed to correct the public record. [my highlighting]

On 2 March 2017 Labor MP for Barton and Shadow Minister for Human Services, Linda Burney, wrote to the Australian Federal Police Commissioner requesting an investigation into the personal/sensitive information release by the minister and/or his staff:

Protection of personal information

Our obligations under the Privacy Act 
This policy sets out how we comply with our obligations under the Privacy Act 1988 and the Australian Privacy Principles which are set out in a Schedule to that Act. 

The Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) regulate how the department, as an APP entity, must collect, use, disclose and store personal information. The APP

What personal information and sensitive information is

The terms 'personal information' and ‘sensitive information’ come from section 6 of the Privacy Act.

References to personal information throughout the Privacy Policy include sensitive information unless otherwise indicated.

‘Personal information’ means: 
Information or an opinion about an identified individual, or an individual who is reasonably identifiable:
a) whether the information or opinion is true or not; and 
b) whether the information or opinion is recorded in a material form or not.

‘Sensitive information’ means: 
a) information or an opinion about an individual’s:
i. racial or ethnic origin
ii. political opinions
iii. membership of a political association
iv. religious beliefs or affiliations v. philosophical beliefs
vi. membership of a professional or trade association
vii. membership of a trade union
viii. sexual orientation or practices
ix. criminal record. 
b) health information about an individual
c) genetic information about an individual that is not otherwise health information

d) biometric information that is to be used for the purpose of automated biometric verification or biometric identification e) biometric templates

Sky News, 2 March 2017:

It was also confirmed Centrelink staff trawl social media for complaints about the welfare agency and may refer serious gripes to the responsible minister.

Senior bureaucrats responsible for Centrelink say their workers sift through print, broadcast and social media for individual complaints.

Deciding on whether to report grievances to the human services minister depended on the circumstances of each case.

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