06 April 2014

APS Delation

With Banerji in mind it is interesting to see reports - accurate or otherwise - that Australian public servants will be encouraged to "dob in" peers engaged in inappropriate social media activity.

The Mebourne Sun-Herald and Sydney Daily Telegraph for example claim that
Public servants will be urged to dob in colleagues posting political criticism of the Abbott government on social media, even if the comments are anonymous, under new Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet guidelines.
The sweeping new rules will even cover public servants posting political comments anonymously, including mummy bloggers on parenting websites, if a colleague knew their online identity.
The new policy clearly states it covers the use of social media in an official and unofficial ­capacity, whether for professional or personal use. If public servants are found to have breached the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct they could be sacked. Colleagues will also be encouraged to dob in each other.
"If an employee becomes aware of another employee who is engaging in conduct that may breach this policy, there is an expectation that the employee will report the conduct to the department," the policy states.
"This means that if you receive or become aware of a social media communication by another PM & C employee that is not consistent with this policy, you should advise that person accordingly and inform your supervisor"
Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson has reportedly "backed the reforms", on the basis that "public servants knew what they were signed up for".
"There is nothing inconsistent with free speech and having codes of conduct or policies as a condition of employment that require professional, respectful behaviour in their role and the public domain", he said.
"It is not unreasonable for such policies to apply to conduct directly related to the primary and specific area of work of a public servant, but are unjustified when they are very broad and limit democratic participation".
"Anonymity should not justify exemptions because it can be connected back to the individual and their work".
The reported rationale for restrictions on being "harsh or extreme" in "criticism of the Government, Government policies, a member of parliament from another political party, or their respective policies" is that such expression "could raise questions about the employee’s capacity to work professionally, efficiently or impartially" and that a "gratuitous personal attack ... might reasonably be perceived to be connected with their employment".

We might wonder, however, about encouragement of delation ... albeit 'dobbing' is as Australian as football, beer and meat pies, with for example hotlines run by -
  • Department of Immigration and Border Protection
  • Centrelink
  • Australian Taxation Office
  • Department of Human Services 
  • Australian Federal Police
  • Victoria Police
  • Consumer Affairs Victoria
  • Victoria Taxi Directorate
  • Cycling Australia
  • KPMG
  • Woolworths
  • Business Software Association
I'm reminded of the literature on denunciation, including 'Signals from below: Soviet letters of denunciation of the 1930s' by Sheila Fitzpatrick in (1996) The Journal of Modern History 831-866, 'Letters of denunciation in the Lyon Region 1940-1944' by Ben Williams in (2001) 26(2/3) Historical Social Research 136-152, 'Slaves as criminal informers in ancient Rome' by Martin Kelly in (1999) 23(2) International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice 307-312, 'Good tongues, bad tongues: Denunciation, rumour and revenge in the French Basque Country, 1943–1945' by Sandra Ott in (2006) 17(1) History and Anthropology 57-72, 'The theory and practice of denunciation in the French Revolution' by Colin Lucas in (1996) The Journal of Modern History 768-785, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice (New York University Press, 2009) by Alexandra Natapoff, 'Thoughts on a neglected category of social movement participant: The agent provocateur and the informant' by Gary Marx in (1974) American Journal of Sociology 402-442, Inventing the enemy: Denunciation and terror in Stalin’s Russia (Cambridge University Press, 2011) by Goldman, Tear off the masks! Identity and imposture in Twentieth-Century Russia (Princeton University Press, 2005) by Fitzpatrick, Imperial inquisitions: prosecutors and informants from Tiberius to Domitian (Routledge, 2002) by Steven Rutledge, Confidential informant: law enforcement's most valuable tool (CRC Press, 1999) by John Madinger, and Accusatory Practices: Denunciation in Modern European History, 1789-1989 (1997) ed by Fitzpatrick and Robert Gellately.

Recent case law regarding employees in trouble for use of social media includes Stutsel v Linfox Australia Pty Ltd [2011] FWA 8444; Banerji v Bowles [2013] FCCA 1052; Little v Credit Corp Group Limited [2013] FWC 9642; Pearson v Linfox Australia Pty Ltd [2014] FWC 446; and Wilkinson-Reed v Launtoy Pty Ltd [2014] FWC 644