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When can I disclose government information to others?

APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice provides advice for managers and employees in the APS about the application of the Code of Conduct and the APS Values. Section 4.6
of the publication discusses proper use of information in more detail.

My friend's wife has separated from him and taken their kids. She won't tell him where they are, and is preventing him from seeing his own children. This is despite him having a court order granting him access. I work for a government agency and can get her address from our records. Can I pass the information to my friend so he can exercise his legal right to see his children?

No. As a public servant, you have a duty not to disclose some kinds of government information. Public Service Regulation 2.1 details how this requirement applies in situations like this, when the information was received or collected in confidence by the government.
Regulation 2.1 also applies in circumstances where:

  • the information is communicated in confidence within the government, or
  • the disclosure could be prejudicial to the working of government.

It is vital that as public servants, we recognise the importance of maintaining the trust and confidence of the public.

Your agency may have specific policies about disclosing information. Check what's on your agency's intranet or get advice from your agency's Ethics Contact Officer.

If you have any questions about this article, please submit them via the form on the Integrity: Your questions answered page.

As well as your obligations under the Public Service Regulations, using that information for a purpose other than which it was collected is not only unethical, but may be a breach of the Privacy Act 1988. Australian Privacy Principle 6 states thatinformation collected about a person for a particular purpose must not be used for another purpose without the consent of that person. Your agency may also have additional requirements regarding the protection of information.

While you might feel there are good reasons to disclose this information, your friend's ex-wife is entitled to know that her personal information is safe. As an APS employee, your responsibility is to the law, not to your friend.

A breach of Regulation 2.1 might land you in more trouble than just breaching the Code of Conduct. It could be prosecuted as a breach of section 70 of the Crimes Act 1914. Loss of employment and imprisonment are real possibilities if you take matters into your own hands.