When you hand over private info, you are not informed of a caveat on confidentiality

5 Mar



Last time you were required to divulge private information to a government agency, did you do so in the belief that the agency would keep your information confidential?

Because if you did, that’s likely the last time you’ll have the luxury of holding that belief.

Nobody who has compulsorily given private data to Centrelink has ever been informed that there is a caveat on confidentiality.

Nobody who has ever compulsorily given private data to any government agency in the belief that it is confidential, has ever been warned that if they speak publicly about that agency, they have forfeited their right to confidentiality. 

Canberra Times hack Paul Malone has today written a column headlined “Time for the truth behind Centrelink controversy and Andie Fox.” The piece is a particularly inept and resentful defence of his use of a citizen’s private data, given to him by DHS Minister Alan Tudge, to put Centrelink’s “side of the story” of a dispute between that user & the service provider.

The core of his defence is that the user spoke publicly about her own circumstances, ergo Centrelink has the right to respond by revealing her circumstances as they know them, to the media.

Malone justifies his tawdry piece thus:

It should be noted here that Andie Fox chose to publish her personal details in her original 1200 word article 

In fact Ms Fox revealed her personal relationship status in the article she wrote and submitted for publication.

In the privacy agreement between Centrelink and Ms Fox, Centrelink undertook to protect the private data Ms Fox was compelled to reveal. Ms Fox at no time agreed, or was asked to agree, to refrain from criticising or otherwise speaking publicly about the agency. Neither was she informed that should she criticise the agency, it would abrogate its undertaking to keep her data private.

These details apparently entirely escape the moral and ethical capacities of Paul Malone, The Canberra Times editors, and Alan Tudge.

I asked some public servants how they feel about this turn of events. Obviously, I’m not going to name them.

Our jobs rely on the public having faith in our confidential handling of their often sensitive information. Why would they be honest with us if they don’t have confidence that we will keep that safe and secure?

A public breach of security or privacy is likely to jeopardise [compliance], causing fear and suspicion, and pushing more people into the non-compliant basket.

It also feels like the integrity of the entire PS has been tarnished [by Tudge’s actions against Fox].

We are constantly bombarded with reminders about privacy and dire warnings about the consequences of breaches, and the head of an agency goes and does this.

I had to sign a declaration before I was given access. Very serious shit to divulge private information.

I’m absolutely horrified at the actual release of the information, the vindictive purpose of the release and also for the Canberra Times publishing it, rather than acknowledging they’d received  information that contradicted other claims.

The relationship between a government agency and a citizen is unique. As I’ve noted before, we are compelled to reveal intensely private information to certain agencies. We do this because we are compelled, and we must trust their staff have been trained in the moral, ethical and legal requirements to respect our privacy.

Minister Alan Tudge’s disgraceful betrayal of that trust damages all APP agencies, and all their staff. It irreparably damages those agencies’ relationships with the public. The Canberra Times, in publishing Malone’s sordid pieces, is colluding with an unprecedented destruction of trust between public servants, politicians and the public.

There is nothing in this hideous saga for the LNP government and The Canberra Times to be proud of, and there is absolutely no defence Paul Malone can invent that justifies the damage he has done to Ms Fox, and in a broader sense, to our society, the fabric of which is held together by the civilising influence of mutual trust.






8 Responses to “When you hand over private info, you are not informed of a caveat on confidentiality”

  1. Macam March 5, 2017 at 11:58 pm #

    It appears that all the rules have gone out the window in this age of post truth, we are rapidly descending into the ugly world of smear and destructive innuendo.
    Its also a sign of how desperate the conservative’s are to defend their dirty deeds!


  2. Moz of Yarramulla March 6, 2017 at 7:10 am #

    The flip side is that all the people who called me paranoid when I filled out a paper census using a non-photo blue pen are now (hopefully) changing their minds. It’s a protest, but a peculiarly effective one I hope, since it raises the cost of gathering that data.

    Eventually they might click to the reason linking their Facebook profile to their blog is worth so much to Facebook. Ditto for all the other “your one true online identity that follows you everywhere” stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Arthur Baker March 6, 2017 at 9:29 am #

    Does this mean that they are actually allowed to do this, by law, and that the referral to the Australian Federal Police will go nowhere? I’m struggling to believe this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson March 7, 2017 at 3:17 pm #

      Yes, they are entitled to defend the department against what they consider are false allegations by using a client’s private data.
      However, the manner in which Tudge did this is perhaps not legal. Has to be tested.


  4. sam jandwich March 6, 2017 at 10:33 am #

    Hi all,

    Readers of Sheep might be interested in tuning in to the Royal Commission today. The Dept of Immigration is being asked about children in immigration detention. See: http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/case-study/5945c8a0-1ccb-4760-9ef3-4d93d890168f/case-study-51,-march-2017,-sydney

    Liked by 1 person

  5. paul walter. March 6, 2017 at 11:06 am #

    Sam Jandwich, just here from watching a bit of it..the guy being questioned is a real Sir Humphrey, but am not much wiser, devil is in the detail and it is as opaque as heck.

    On the other, am sure I put up a Guardian post from the weekend that further legislation is about to be passe din Parliament and in light of the Centrelink farce Labor is considering not supporting the legislation.

    It does seem passing strange that there seems not more discussion has occurred in Parliament and in the MSM, if the advent of further intrusive legislation is nigh given the fundamental issues raised by commentators like Dr Wilson over this series of postings.

    Probably just this writer and his nasty, suspicious nature.


  6. Bolt Upright March 6, 2017 at 11:10 am #

    The Consent to Obtain and Release Information enables the service provider to share my information with Centrelink, the Department of Employment, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Education and Training, the Department of Immigration and Boarder (sic) Protection, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (which I always delete) and their respective contracted providers where these providers are delivering services to you.

    Nothing about journalists in the document I signed.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. paul walter. March 6, 2017 at 11:41 am #

    Up Bolt right, aside from peripheral issues, it seems the point of the thread starter concerns the subversion of the obvious cardinal point re info privacy as paramount and personal info as not some thing to handed about like cookies at a tea party?

    That is, as the substance of your comment confirms?


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