SSC investigation highlights pitfalls of inappropriate surveillance

The failings in use of external security consultants by government agencies uncovered in today’s findings by the State Services Commission contain valuable lessons.

“We agree with State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes that it is never acceptable for an agency to use private investigators to undertake surveillance which would be unlawful or unethical for the agency’s own staff to undertake,” said Glenn Barclay, PSA national secretary.

“It is alarming that the findings also show that the rights of particular individuals and groups have been unlawfully, disproportionately and unethically violated – in some instances just to manage reputational risk to an agency.

“We should not be complacent given these findings show system-wide failings across the public service,” said Glenn Barclay.

“The new model standards from the SSC are helpful, but it’s unclear how compliance with the policies that agencies develop by 30 April will be monitored.

“In 2019 the Government has two opportunities to protect against these types of action that are damaging to the integrity of the public service and that undermine the confidence of the public.

“The first opportunity is for the Government to introduce the strongest possible reforms of the State Sector Act to ensure that responsibilities across the public service are less fragmented and to make it easier to enforce set higher standards.

“In addition we are advocating that as part of the current review of the Protected Disclosures Act much more could be done to improve the ability for public servants to speak out about all types of wrong-doing, including misuse of surveillance.”