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Friday, July 04, 2008

Anonymity not warranted for significant agency mistakes

An unnamed local council in Victoria released 223 pages of documents to a Freedom of Information applicant who was involved in a protracted dispute with a neighbour, including 185 pages of information provided largely in confidence by the neighbour about their side of the story, and without any consultation.It proved to be an expensive failure to process the application correctly.

First an investigation by the Ombudsman, that resulted in an acknowledgment by the council that it "may have erred seriously in its management of the FOI request". Then when the council did not follow the Ombudsman's recommendations to resolve the matter, the neighbour complained to the Privacy Commissioner who was able to investigate an alleged breach of privacy because the council appears to have released the documents as a routine disclosure, not under the FOI Act. As a result of a finding by the Commissioner of breach of the disclosure principle, the council agreed to payment of an undisclosed sum in compensation.

While the aggrieved party is entitled to expect privacy in the handling of these complaints, wouldn't the local citizens be better off if the council was publicly named, rather than hidden behind "Local Council" in the case note issued by the Privacy Commissioner? That might enable any of them interested, to ask relevant questions. Quite apart from final compensation, how much did this cost in terms of staff time and any other assistance sought to deal with two investigations, and why did the council fail to act on the Ombudsman's recommendations?

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