20 March 2015

Pathology Spycams

Ina nice illustration of problems with narrowly-drafted and device-specific privacy legislation an internal review of SA Pathology - the state's troubled public sector pathology group, being readied for privatisation - has found that covert workplace surveillance of staff using CCTV was inappropriate but not illegal.

During December last year SA Health, the group's parent, admitted that from October two cameras had been hidden in smoke detectors to monitor  staff at SA Pathology's Frome Road premises. The cameras were used as part of an investigation into processing delays for pathology reports. The cameras were removed in December, with replacement by 'regular cameras.

The Health Minister Jack Snelling referred to 'a lapse in judgement' by SA Pathology management, with SA Health's  chief executive David Swan being asked to investigate.

Swan has now stated that the investigation found the use of the covert cameras  breached no laws -
The investigation has found that the camera equipment was installed due to suspicion of tampering with pathology results, therefore putting patient care at risk
The cameras did not have the capability to record audio and therefore did not breach the Listening and Surveillance Devices Act 1972.
However the decision to use covert surveillance equipment was made without consultation or approval from executive level management or human resources.
There is no indication as to whether junior heads have rolled. A formal report regarding the investigation does not yet appear to be publicly available.

Swan indicated that "We're now in the process of developing a new policy governing the use of surveillance equipment across SA Health to ensure this kind of situation does not happen again,"

Under that policy any workplace cameras must be clearly visible, with staff being alerted to their presence. Where criminal activity or misconduct is suspected covert surveillance can be undertaken following guidance from SAPOL and under the SA Health CEO's authority.