Friday, September 30, 2022

Sarah was allegedly spied on by a government agency. Now it’s under investigation

Allegations Victoria’s government logging agency spied on its critics have sparked an investigation by the state’s Information Commissioner.

The Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC) said it was investigating whether VicForests breached the state’s Privacy and Data Protection Act when it allegedly hired a private investigator to spy on activist Sarah Rees about 10 years ago.

Last year, a private investigator who had worked for VicForests told the ABC he was asked to follow and photograph Sarah Rees in order to “dig up dirt” on her.

After the revelations were aired by the ABC, VicForests a consultancy to investigate the hired investigation, and said it would make the investigation report public when it was completed.

In April this year, VicForests announced it had referred itself to Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), but did not release the report.

In May VicForests announced IBAC had referred the matter to OVIC.

Investigation ‘likely to have lessons’ for other agencies

The ABC can reveal OVIC is also conducting a separate investigation into whether VicForests has failed to comply with the state’s Freedom of Information laws, after it refused to hand over information to Ms Rees related to the alleged spying.

Ms Rees requested the information in 2020 after becoming aware the alleged spying might have occurred.

“Any form of surveillance by government agencies is inherently intrusive and may be unlawful,” Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel said.

“It should never be conducted lightly and must always be subject to effective oversight.”

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