New South Wales Police look set to refer a public data leak to the Independent Commission Against Corruption following an investigation that draws further attention to the citizen data held by governments and how it can be misused.
It began with an honest mistake that Revenue NSW tried quickly to correct, at first sending then recalling a list of individuals who had sought the assistance of a member of parliament in dealing with state-issued fines, typically for driving offences.
That list was initially sent to the office of then finance minister, now Customer Services Minister Victor Dominello, in response to a request for call numbers to the agency’s direct line for MPs to make enquries on behalf of constituents*. The list contained politically damaging information against the then opposition leader Michael Daley, and found its way into the hands of a journalist during the March state election campaign.
Misinformation about the nature of the direct line for MPs appeared in news reports at the time and subsequently after Daley raised objections to earlier characterisations that it was a “secret hotline” that allowed MPs to transfer fines, with the false implication that MPs could avoid embarassing fines by means that members of the public could not.
Prior to the news media reporting, Commissioner of Revenue NSW, Stephen Brady sought to have the file containing the list recalled and referred the disclosure to the NSW Information and Privacy Commission. The Australian has reported today that he also told the minister’s office staff to delete the file. Brady issued a statement yesterday:
“When Revenue NSW became aware of the incident, the Information and Privacy Commission [IPC] was immediately notified.
“The IPC recommended Revenue NSW take the opportunity to review governance arrangements to ensure all staff are aware of their privacy obligations.
“Revenue NSW has complied with this recommendation, reviewing approval procedures and ensuring training on privacy obligations is tracked so that similar incidents do not occur in future.”
The newspaper also quotes Daley insisting the matter be taken to conclusion:
“It doesn’t get much more serious that this. The private details of thousands of people which are supposed to be guarded by the government and they were released for political purposes. I do not intend to let this matter rest.”
Two political staffers are currently the focus of the police investigation that began in March. The investigation is expected to wrap soon and be referred to ICAC.
*Disclosure: in the mid-2000s the editor of The Mandarin was briefly employed in the then Office of State Revenue, now known as Revenue NSW, and worked on this direct line for MPs inquiries — however, has no relationship with any employee currently working in that area.