Open Government? – political misstep leads to privacy breach

By Cameron Abbott and Keely O’Dowd

Navigating the political terrain and party politics can be a treacherous journey for any politician.

Recently, we have been captivated by a political misstep that involved the tabling of approximately 80,000 confidential and unredacted Cabinet documents of a former Government in the Victoria Parliament. In usual circumstances, these documents would have remained confidential for 30 years, unless the former Government consented to the release of the documents.  However, in an attempt to seek an advantage in the political arena, the Victorian Government of the day decided to release these documents in Parliament and online.

While documents of this nature would normally go through a thorough review and redaction process before they are even considered for release under Freedom of Information laws, on this occasion, these 80,000 documents found themselves exposed to the world at large, in circumstances where it seems no consideration was given to the documents contents. The consequence of this lack of review of the documents’ contents has led to the private details of a number of individuals, including their medical and financial details, being revealed.

Unfortunately, the personal information of a number of individuals including a lawyer and her daughter and a Hollywood celebrity’s mother, have been exposed and these individuals have found themselves as collateral damage, as both political parties fire shots at each other. The Victorian Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 is intended to protect the personal information of these very individuals from public disclosure and we would not be surprised if these individuals are now considering their legal options in light of this privacy breach.

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