Beware information risks while working from home, warns IBAC commissioner

By Robert Redlich

Friday May 1, 2020


To mark Privacy Awareness Week, Victoria’s anti-corruption commissioner the Honourable Robert Redlich QC shares his tips for how the public sector can protect against the risk of unauthorised release or misuse of sensitive public sector information, particularly when working from home.

Robert Redlich

Responding to the COVID-19 emergency is an incredibly demanding time for our public sector, particularly for stretched frontline services. Significant funding and other measures are being progressively announced and implemented by the state and Commonwealth governments in response to the unprecedented public health, economic and social impacts of the pandemic.

While we appreciate this is a time to apply common sense and flexibility, we’re aware from our own experience at IBAC, and from other jurisdictions in Australia and overseas, that misconduct and corruption risks are heightened when there are changes in the way government services are delivered during times of crisis.

In an ongoing climate of emergency response and recovery, and with a need to respond quickly and under pressure, IBAC plays an important role in supporting our hard working public sector.

One way we do this is by providing information and resources to support corruption prevention. We’re keen to ensure public sector employees are supported to make decisions that uphold public sector values, represent the best interests of the community and minimise any waste in the allocation of precious taxpayer funds.

A broad range of corruption prevention resources are available on our website.

As we mark Privacy Awareness Week, it is timely to remind public sector employees to be alert to the need for good practices to protect against any unauthorised release or misuse of sensitive public sector information.

IBAC investigations and research have highlighted significant corruption and misconduct risks associated with any unauthorised use and disclosure of private information held by government.

Public sector agencies need to collect, manage and properly protect private information in order to successfully deliver the vital services we all rely on and now, while many public sector employees are working from their own homes, everyone is encouraged to be aware of the potential added risks and to take appropriate steps to address them.

Recent IBAC reports on the corruption risks associated with unauthorised use and misuse of information in Victoria Police and the Victorian public sector illustrate that unauthorised release of information and data by public sector employees can have significant adverse impacts on the cost of government services, fairness for people seeking government contracts, and community safety.

In Victoria, public sector agencies are encouraged to regularly review their data protection security plans and make sure they comply with what the Office of the Victorian Information Commission recommends.

Tips for Victorian public sector leaders are:

  • Provide training and education to employees on legislative requirements for handling information as well as education on the serious consequences of misusing information
  • Increase targeted auditing of who’s accessing information systems and databases
  • Be vigilant to potential conflicts of interest by ensuring you have a current conflict of interest register and that policies and guidelines are up to date.

Tips for public sector employees are:

  • Know your obligations under the Victorian Protective Data Security Framework, and how the standards apply to your work and the type of information you access on a day-to-day basis. Report information security breaches (such as a breach of privacy) so the Office of the Victorian Information Commission can be advised
  • Be vigilant with procurement and recruitment processes, particularly in relation to approval processes, to ensure information is accurate, complete, and saved appropriately for future reference and auditing
  • Practice good home security by locking computers when not in use, securing sensitive information, and being aware of others who may overhear conversations when discussing sensitive matters.

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