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

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.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

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7 comments

  1. Keitha Granville

    next time anyone has any dealings with government agencies, we should ask them to sign a confidentiality agreement before we tell them anything.

  2. Jon L

    Just thinking the same thing……..

  3. ozibody

    Hmmmmm ….. brings to mind the recent Census Form , name and address Privacy Blight ? ….. substantial Fines ? ! ….. Is Australian constituents’ Personal Privacy in the trash can, whilst the current Government is in POWER ? …..

  4. Terry2

    At least Paul Malone admits in his article :

    “I do not know the whole truth of the Andie Fox case.

    I have no doubt that many, many people have difficulty in dealing with Centrelink.

    I have no doubt that Centrelink makes mistakes.”

    We need to have a transparent investigation into how personal information was leaked to the media by Centrelink – if it was – even Malone seems to be backing away from this and blaming Ms Fox for publishing her own personal information on her blog.

    Just reporting it to the AFP could be burying it as the AFP will only prioritise these complaints in accordance with political expedience.

    We cannot tolerate a situation where government agencies leak personal and confidential information to the media : that is the bottom line !

  5. etnorb

    Surely under our Privacy laws & even using commonsense & good judgement–something this inept, lying mob cannot do,sadly!–“our” private information must remain private? At least that is what MUST happen, so why is this poor woman or any one else for that matter, “allowed’ to have their private information publicised EVER? Effing useless, obscenely over-paid excuse for a political party!

  6. Roscoe

    next time the census rolls around, how many will answer truthfully then?

  7. babyjewels10

    Silencing dissent. And it will be very effective.

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