25 March 2013

The Earthquake Commission, contrite about the unintended release of thousands of claim details when a document was emailed to an incorrect addressee, can find some consolation in the latest Australian scandal.

In Queensland, the Fitzgerald inquiry in 1989 – 1990 tackled entrenched Police corruption. A consequence was the establishment of the Crime and Corruption Commission as a specialist body to champion integrity across state institutions.

Last year the CCC published 740 confidential documents relating to the inquiry in what a Parliamentary select committee was told was an accident. Many who gave confidential statements to the inquiry were identified when sensitive material was reclassified for release.  Some opponents of the Queensland Government have implied that the release was an intentional “pay back” as a number of people identified as corrupt by Fitzgerald had links with the Liberal-National coalition, now back in office after 20 years of opposition. Another conspiracy theory is that the blunder will embolden the Government to reduce the power and scope of the CCC.

To aggravate the CCC’s embarrassment, the select committee was informed of  4,000 investigation files that were “mistakenly” shredded last year. It confirmed that it had also mistakenly released details of a corruption operation taking place in late 2012, and possibly even more troubling for the State’s principal watchdog, it admitted that last year the person acting as the CCC  chair did not have a valid warrant.

The CCC Communications director who acknowledged that this is a horrible breakdown of bureaucratic process, spoke of “very serious error”.

The Earthquake Commission chief executive disappointed at his agency’s privacy breach, apologised unreservedly. He explained that the incident did not include customer names and that specialist knowledge would be needed to interpret the data.  The cause is a risk in most workplaces, where MS Outlook predicts an incorrect addressee for email which the sender does not notice before despatching the message.