Senior government officials have approved the release of a Centrelink recipient’s personal information to counter her public criticism of the department.

Welfare recipient Andie Fox wrote an article for Fairfax Media earlier this month setting out her difficulties dealing with the agency after she began receiving calls from a debt collector.

But, over the weekend, she was shocked to discover details of her interactions with Centrelink and claim history set out – with some information she says is incorrect – in a separate article by Fairfax Media.

The article, headlined “Centrelink is an easy target for complaining but there are two sides to every story”, used information released by Centrelink to challenge Fox’s claims.

Fox has now questioned whether the department breached her privacy. She has lodged complaints with Centrelink and other organisations about the release of her personal information.

“It’s an incredibly disturbing event,” she told Guardian Australia.

The department confirmed that Fox’s personal information was approved for release to Fairfax Media. It said it was necessary to correct the public record about several inaccurate claims Fox had made.

The information was approved for release by a deputy secretary. The department’s head of legal services and general counsel both said they were comfortable with the release of the information. It was then provided to Fairfax Media by the office of the human services minister, Alan Tudge.

Ordinarily it would be an offence for social services staff to disclose “protected information” held by the agency, which would include a person’s Centrelink details. But the secretary has a broad discretionary power to release information “to such persons and for such purposes” as they deem fit.

The Greens senator Scott Ludlam said on Twitter the decision to release the information was “sick” and that “whoever authorised this hostile drop deserves to spend some time in the #centrelink queue themselves”.

Scott Ludlam

this is sick. whoever authorised this hostile drop deserves to spend some time in the #centrelink queue themselves

February 27, 2017

Under Australia’s privacy principles an organisation or government entity must not use or disclose personal information without the consent of the person.

The privacy commissioner can order a range of remedies, including compensation, if a ruling is made that a person’s privacy has been breached.

But an exception to the prohibition on disclosure exists if the government entity “is required or authorised by or under an Australian law”, which could limit the success of any complaint relating to Centrelink’s release of information.

Fox’s welfare debt was not raised through the much-criticised automated debt recovery system.

Source link The Guardian

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