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Centrelink spy videos fed to media (Winz equivalent) Privacy concerns

#1 User is offline   hukildaspida 

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 05:30 PM

Capital Circle
Political journos to write fiction

There's political intrigue as two senior press gallery correspondents write a novel.

Centrelink spy videos fed to media

EXCLUSIVE: Sue Dunlevy and Milanda Rout
From: The Australian
July 27, 2011 12:00AM

CENTRELINK is using private investigators to take covert surveillance of welfare cheats and then supplying the material to the media in a practice labelled a "double standard" as the government pursues privacy reform.

The Department of Human Services' fraud and compliance media strategy, obtained by The Australian, reveals that the release of this material is systematic and sanctioned by departmental policy.

"Where there is surveillance footage available for a prosecution case, the Business Integrity Division will let the Media Section know as soon as possible," the strategy says.

"This gives both teams plenty of time to view the tape and to decide if the vision is suitable for release to the media."

Human Services Minister Tanya Plibersek has also sanctioned the release of the footage. She wrote last month to welfare groups that were complaining about the treatment of disability support pensioners by television current affairs programs, admitting the practice occurred and defending it.

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"Centrelink will only provide footage obtained from fraud investigations if it relates to a matter that has already been finalised by the courts," Ms Plibersek's letter says.

"Any footage provided is pixelated by Centrelink staff prior to release. Releasing footage under these circumstances does not breach the strict privacy laws Centrelink is bound by."

The department's media strategy details how its advisers are encouraged to alert the media to notable fraud cases before the courts and have a protocol for doing so.

"Important note: In instances where the Media Section makes a tip-off to the media prior to a court appearance, it does not supply written material about the case," the protocol says.

The department's media strategy says the reason it releases this information is for "building confidence in Centrelink" and providing "assurance to government, clients and customers that . . . Centrelink is able to identify and take action against welfare fraud".

NSW Council of Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy, an advocate for tougher privacy laws, said it appeared there was "in a sense a double standard at play" in the government's calls for better privacy protection.

"If you're going to have integrity about your privacy law, the government has got to be just as culpable as anyone else," he told The Australian.

"You can't just have a system where there is one rule for the government and another for everyone else.

"You don't have a department out there leaking information because it is convenient."

Opposition human services spokesman Kevin Andrews said yesterday a reply to a question he placed on notice had revealed that there had been 197 code of conduct investigations of employees of Centrelink, Medicare, the Child Support Agency and other agencies in the year to June 10. Sixty seven of these involved staff accused of improperly accessing personal information.

"At a time when the Labor-Greens alliance is making noises about regulating the media to apparently strengthen the privacy of citizens, the department which holds information on

every Australian has had 67 investigations for improper access to personal information," he said. "I think it's important to know what happened to the 35 investigations where the employee resigned prior to the case being finalised, and three cases where the employee's contract expired prior to the case being finalised."

The concerns about the release of covert footage come after parliament passed government legislation that will allow independent doctors who are Medifraud investigators to look at patient records when they are trying to gather evidence against a doctor.

A spokeswoman for Acting Health Minister Mark Butler said yesterday: "When Medicare requires documentation for compliance purposes, these materials are managed by the patient's health practitioner and a medical practitioner at Medicare to maintain strict privacy provisions."

Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said patient privacy was "sacrosanct". He supported auditing Medicare, but "nobody should get to see a patient record without good reason", particularly someone not bound by the same privacy code as a doctor.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said last week he would produce a discussion paper based on a 2008 Australian Law Reform Commission report that proposed the creation of a legal right to privacy.

Privacy has been in the spotlight since revelations emerged in Britain of telephone hacking by News of the World journalists.

"There is no general right to privacy in Australia, and that means there's no certainty for anyone wanting to sue for a breach of privacy," Mr O'Connor said on July 21. "The News of the World scandal and other recent mass breaches of privacy at home and abroad have certainly turned the spotlight on the issue of whether Australians should have such a right."

The push for additional protection on privacy coincided with Julia Gillard saying News Limited, publisher of The Australian and the Australian arm of News Corporation, which owns News of the World, had some "hard questions" to answer.

Mr O'Connor has this week insisted the Gillard government's consideration of new privacy laws was not targeted at the media, but at protecting privacy across the community.

A spokesman for Ms Plibersek said last night the release by Centrelink of surveillance footage occurred only in cases where there had been a welfare fraud conviction. "These are made available under strict privacy protocols that have been followed for many years under successive governments," he said. "This includes pixelation of all vision of convicted individuals and only providing information that is on the public record."

Creating public awareness about Centrelink's fraud prevention activities was important for educating customers about their obligations, deterring people from breaking the law and enhancing community confidence in the integrity of the social security system, the spokesman said.

Centrelink staff treated the protection of customer information seriously, which was why there were guidelines for media officers, he said.

The department's media strategy came to light after a coalition of welfare groups wrote to Ms Plibersek and Families Minister Jenny Macklin earlier this year to complain about the vilification of Disability Support Pensioners in recent media stories.

"As you know, only 307 of the 800,000 DSP recipients were prosecuted for fraud last year, and the numbers losing payments as a result of medical reviews (most of which do not involve 'fraud') are not much higher," the groups said in their letter. They sought an assurance "the privacy of customers will be protected by Centrelink, that public humiliation of individuals is not part of the government's compliance strategy, and that the government will contest the vilification of disability pensioners as a group in media stories such as these".

Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said yesterday he could not comment in detail as he was unaware of the specific allegations against Centrelink, but as a government organisation, it was required to comply with the National Privacy Principles, which regulated the use of personal details. The principles would not apply if the agency "de-identified" someone by blurring a picture or removing any identifying information.

79 comments on this story

Comments on this story

Gary of Shepparton vic Posted at 11:52 AM Today

It seems that the Privacy Act doesn't apply to the Government. The people responsible should be the subject of an investigation and sacked if necessary including the Minister. This has got to stop.

Horatio from Sydney of Sydney Posted at 11:51 AM Today

Welfare cheats who perpetrate Fraudulent Claims commit a Criminal Act. Privacy should be maintained until proven guilty by the Court. Then, if proven guilty, they have no Privacy Protection, it becomes of Public Interest.

Dharuk of Sydney West Posted at 11:50 AM Today

So this is different from the illegal leaks to the media in the UK in what way? What else has Centelink or other government departments leaked to further their evil ends? The only certainty is that none of these official leakers will do jail time for breaking the law. Be careful before you cross this line because you never know where it will end. You may even see the tax office release secret information to the media about high profile taxpayers on whom they have no evidence, despite all the strict privacy laws. The people who do it could even get away with it or be hailed as heroes such as some of the comments above indicate.

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#2 User is offline   hukildaspida 

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 05:33 PM

Privacy fear over agencies' mega-merger: Medicare, Centrelink data plan

UPDATED Karen Dearne
From: The Australian
March 22, 2011 4:11PM

MEDICARE and Centrelink are involved in an Orwellian mega-merger that will strengthen data linkages to citizens'personal information, say consumer advocates.

The changes -- part of the Gillard government's service delivery reform program -- are in the Human Services legislation amendment bill 2010. After a three-week inquiry, the Senate Community Affairs committee is due to report on the bill today.

Australian Privacy Foundation health spokeswoman Juanita Fernando said the bill was geared more towards delivering an Orwellian society than citizens' services. "I am amazed the government has not told Australians that integration of Medicare and Centrelink services under a single shopfront will result in many new linkages of data," Dr Fernando said.

"The bill is dreadful. Data linkages have already commenced.

"We are concerned more linkages between Medicare, which hosts the centralised repository of individual healthcare identifiers, and Centrelink is the thin edge of the wedge."

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Centrelink spy videos fed to media The Australian, 15 hours ago
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Parliamentary secretary for community services Julie Collins said integration into a single department would bring together back-office functions to improve efficiency, reduce costs and free up staff.

"Increased self-service options will allow people to manage their own affairs, including through expanded online services," Ms Collins said, adding that the government was conscious of the need to protect customer data. "Importantly, any new sharing of customer data within the integrated department will occur only with customer consent.

"We are particularly aware of the trust Australians place in Medicare's management of their clinical information. For this reason, clinical data will be excluded from any data sharing under service delivery reform."

But Dr Fernando said the bill made no reference to the rich Individual Healthcare Identifier database and possible ramifications for access to services.

New information supplied by Human Services to the Senate inquiry had raised further concerns. "(The bill) empowers the department to seize computer equipment that potentially contains large numbers of patient records," she said. "One's personal information is no longer limited to 600,000 health professionals (via the IHI service). Now it is available to an additional 27,000 Centrelink employees and agents and access points employing any number of staff."

The Consumer Health Forum was concerned the bill "substantially reduced" Medicare's obligation to notify patients when their medical records were seized during the course of an investigation, chief executive Carol Bennett said. The bill says it would be "onerous and expensive" to notify patients where large numbers of records were seized, and could cause needless worry. Medicare would only be required to contact individuals when clinical information was exposed. "Australians assume the information Medicare holds about them will be protected and they will be informed of any atypical access to it," Ms Bennett said.

"CHF is concerned that if Medicare has the power to seize and examine records without being required to notify patients, there will be more inappropriate access to information."

Liberty Victoria spokesman Tim Warner said provisions for an individual's right to privacy were weak and piecemeal, and controls over data-matching would be "even more pathetic" when all the databases were held by one department and accessed from one set of terminals.

"The most mealy-mouthed promise is that many databases will only be linked at the customer’s request," Mr Warner said.

"It doesn't require the screen-writing talents of James Cameron to envisage a pensioner who is dependent on the case officer's goodwill for food and shelter being asked: 'May I link your pension record with your other records?' It would a brave soul who answered no."

Mr Warner said a stronger privacy culture was needed before such a bill was contemplated, including criminal penalties for those selling or misusing personal data.

Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said the merged department was expected to have appropriate protocols in place covering the handling of personal information.

"We understand that, if the bill is passed, Medicare intends to update its investigations protocols and will consult with us during this process,'' Mr Pilgrim said.

The Privacy Commissioner's Office was paid $412,500 to provide Human Services with privacy advice for the year to January 31.

More than $11 million has been paid to consultants and advisers on the service delivery reform project over the past two years, with Boston Consulting pocketing $6.75m for a business framework, $1.1m for a business plan, and another $616,000 for strategic advice.

KPMG was paid almost $975,000 for management advisory services.

#3 User is offline   hukildaspida 

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Posted 11 December 2014 - 01:03 PM

We would be interested to know if he used any NZ addresses or names of relations in NZ.

a current affair
7:00pm December 8, 2014
Welfare cheats exposed as Centrelink's fraud detection catches out scammers

December 08, 2014: The fraudsters that set up multiple identities and claim multiple payments. On A Current Affair, we go undercover with Centrelink as they catch one of Australia's biggest welfare cheats.
A Current Affair

A Current Affair
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A Brisbane welfare cheat accumulated 14 different homes using thousands of taxpayer dollars duped from Centrelink under three different identities.

Eric Ogden, 76, is just one of countless individual welfare fraud cases coming to light as Centrelink's fraud detection catches out those scamming the system.

Ogden was forced to repay $400,000 in payments and sentenced to five years' jail after pleading guilty to scamming government agency Centrelink earlier this year.

He was caught out through Centrelink's data matching facility, which saw his 15-year game come to an end.

Ogden stole hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars and amassed almost one home for every year by setting up three different identities.

He used the names Enrico and Giovani Fredricksen, the names of relatives who had moved overseas, plus his own name, to claim Newstart and age pensions.

But it was a computer check that found both Enrico and Giovani Fredricksen didn't have Medicare cards when they should have.

"The most common thing that we do is we match records against records from other government agencies," Hank Jongen from the Department of Human Services told A Current Affair.

"So this is the hub where all that connecting and checking with other government agencies occur."

Centrelink's fraud detection made a link between the non-existent Fredricksen's and Ogden through the addresses of his 14 different homes.

For further evidence, Centrelink created a setup, asking Ogden to come in for an interview, and asked one the aliases, Enrico Fredrickson to also turn up to a different Centrelink office.

Ogden was secretly filmed the whole time, entering the Centrelink offices under different identities.

His is one of the biggest fraud cases of its type in Queensland, and the fifth biggest in Australia.

"The tax payer should feel absolutely ripped off and now we should start to wonder how much more money is being funneled out of government, out of welfare," 2GB broadcaster Chris Smith said.

"It's our money that's being ripped off… it's not government money, it's taxpayers money."

Each year, Centrelink investigates about 3000 cases of suspected fraud, while about 1200 are referred for possible prosecution action.

In each case, the scammers have to pay the money back.

"People have to pay the money back regardless of whether they've caused an honest mistake, which has caused an overpayment, or whether they have deliberately set out to defraud the system," Mr Jongen said.

© ninemsn 2014


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