Police, data breaches and Accountability

I used to work for the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption. I contemplate police powers and how their sense of entitlement in respect of citizens information.

The article speaks about the breach of privacy of a domestic violence case where a policeman took a photo to obtain details related to a domestic violence complainant. Apparently the man had been seconded to a role at the Crime and Corruption Commission Queensland last year. The issue is unauthorised access of confidential information which is illegal. He was stood down and suspended on full pay.

I contemplate when I was cut off income support payments when I stated a ‘conscientious objection’ to corruption in the job provider system. I received no payment (survival) whilst I was reviewed. I put this down to inequality and power imbalance as I am perceived as lower socio economic and I have no economic value which impacts my rights. The systemic structures and processes must provide genuine independent oversight (fully funded) to ensure a fair hearing and a culture that upholds democratic rights. I have experienced discrimination myself and subtle covert violence inherent in a system which is unequal – we all don’t get the same access to mechanisms to ensure fairness. I am awakening to inequality, gender bias and lack of accountability from those in positions of power which often looks like silence (stonewalling) which is inclusive of covert forms of bullying.

The underlying issues for the Queensland police appear to be possible abuse of power, patriarchal bias, unaccountability, gender inequality, privacy breaches and possible illegality. I have particularly concerns about the privatisation of the police force (brand image) and how it can be held to account by the public who still pay for it through taxes but as an asset it is private. Who do they serve? I would like to understand this more clearly.

The issue of unaccountability is becoming a constant theme as I investigate corruption at higher levels. I sit here and I contemplate the Fitzgerald Inquiry. I just thought about Jo Bjelke Petersen, the Queensland Premier who created what was termed ‘a police state’ where corruption was rife. I typed some of the transcripts. I am feeling a similar environment arising in Australia today, it is very concerning. This video of Jo BJelkie Petersen is symptomatic of how those in power block questions in the public interest. It provides insights into the mindset of those in power who are quick to speak about ethics and values but behind the scenes it is all about deals.


Historical corruption in Queensland Police: https://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/joh-bjelkepetersen-conspired-to-appoint-corrupt-terry-lewis-as-queensland-police-commissioner/news-story/70287be45a780630f4c1ff97373b4f90

I am envisaging a new set of values. As clearly corruption commissions don’t work as the essential values that drive behaviour are not changing. I believe greed is the core issue which is the basis of our material system where people are corrupted by ‘this is the way we do things’ coupled with powerlessness seeking more power, unchecked power as entitlement and the desire for higher status to be seen as ‘more’.

It is important for the police who do the right thing to call to account their colleagues and for a Police Commissioner to ensure a culture of integrity exists and that accountability and the letter of the law is applied. As no-one is above the law. This will also mean less leaks to the media. I am no fan of trial by media but where do people go for justice? We witness attempts to silence the media given the redacting by all the newspapers in protest at the Australian Federal Police raids on the ABC and News Corp journalists. This is a sign of corruption at higher levels. It is a important marker.

Why do values matter? Trust and security arise from regarding those in authority as having integrity. That is why Judges used the word ‘integrity’ in the request for a Federal Integrity Commission, as that is what is clearly lacking. Honest police are critically important.

Ben Smee
Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

A Queensland police superintendent has been suspended for allegedly photographing the confidential details of a domestic violence victim, Guardian Australia has learned.

The senior detective is the second officer in Queensland known to be accused of using police computer systems to obtain details related to a domestic violence complainant.

He is also one of the highest ranking officers to be caught up in an ongoing data misuse scandal, which the state’s police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, has said has “brought our organisation into disrepute”.

The man had been seconded to a role at the Crime and Corruption Commission Queensland last year.

In early November, police and the CCC both released statements that said the 51-year-old detective superintendent had been stood down from operational duties, then suspended, amid an ongoing investigation into the unauthorised access of confidential information.

The decorated officer is the second in Queensland known to be accused of obtaining a family violence victim’s details. © Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP The decorated officer is the second in Queensland known to be accused of obtaining a family violence victim’s details.

The CCC immediately rescinded the man’s secondment.

The statements made no mention of the specific allegations. But Guardian Australia can reveal the officer was suspended for allegedly taking a photograph of a computer screen displaying the personal details of a domestic violence complainant.

Police said they “proactively” released a statement two days after the CCC had done so, but would not address questions about why the statement did not mention the accusations related to the identity of a domestic violence complainant.

At the time the officer was stood down, police were under extraordinary scrutiny in relation to their handling of a similar incident – senior constable Neil Punchard accessed the address of a domestic violence victim and disclosed the details to her former partner.

Police initially treated Punchard’s actions as an internal disciplinary matter. He was docked pay but not demoted or dismissed.

After considerable public pressure, a campaign from the victim and advice from the CCC, police eventually laid charges against Punchard and he was convicted of computer hacking last year. Carroll remains under pressure to sack him.

In November last year, the same week the detective superintendent was suspended, the CCC began hearings into Operation Impala, which was investigating public sector data misuse.

The CCC eventually recommended tougher criminal sanctions for public officials who access confidential information unlawfully, after hearing evidence that agencies were often inconsistent in deciding whether to handle breaches as criminal complaints or internal discipline matters.

On 18 November, when giving evidence at the inquiry, Carroll was asked whether criminal charges should be pursued in circumstances where a domestic violence victim’s details were disclosed.

“Yes, and that’s a strong message that I have sent,” she said.

Several people with knowledge of the case have spoken to Guardian Australia out of concern at the time it has taken to investigate the case.

Police said the investigation into the detective superintendent “remains ongoing and as such, the QPS is unable to comment further at this time”.

It is understood he is on full pay while suspended.