A report by SKY news has indicated that the Coroner Michael Burns in investigating the Lindt Cafe siege has found the Personal Information Protection Act and the Health Records Information act were too stringent and did not allow ASIO investigators to have information needed. Coroner Burns has asked the NSW government to review the privacy legislation through his findings. The Sydney Morning Herald, reporting on the findings stated that “Mr Barnes says the government should consider whether NSW Health should more readily share information so that “fixated lone actors” can be identified and monitored earlier.
However, reviewing the coroner’s report the findings aren’t so clear. Monis did visit several General Practitioners (GPs) who referred him to psychiatrists. Monis did, on one occasion, see a psychiatrist (through a private practice) who diagnosed him with mild depression. He was also seen by the Cantebury mental health team over a period of 16 months. However, according to the coroner’s report Monis was felt to have a personality condtion and not a psychiatric disorder. Additionally, Monis was felt to have manipulated the system to present him as a person with mental instability for some reason.
While the report is obviously a summary of the information gained at the inquest I wonder what good the health information would be in assisting ASIO or any other agency in identifying and removing Monis from the streets prior to the Lindt cafe siege? He appeared to be using the system for his own gains. Monis saw at least 10 GPs within the community, all who I would presume to be in private practice; and therefore not within the confines of the NSW Health system regarding privacy and information sharing. I am wondering how ASIO would be able to know that Monis had seen so many private practitioners and that he failed to follow-up on psychiatric referrals?
I, like many of my countrymen and women, do not want to see terrorist attacks in Australia as occurred in the Lindt cafe siege and in other horrific attacks around the world. And I would be prepared to assist authorities if it was needed. But unless there could be a reasonable explanation as to what benefit would be gained from relaxing the two privacy legislative bills in regards to apprehending potential ‘lone actors’ and preventing terrorist attacks then I fail to see how this would provide benefit over cost to the general public?
NSW Health takes privacy very seriously, and that is a welcome position in my book as a healthcare practitioner and patient. While I am not completely opposed to relaxing privacy legislation I do think we owe it to the general public to have an open discussion regarding what we as that public would be prepared to give up in terms of our privacy for the safety of others. By relaxing privacy legislation, particularly in mental health situations, you risk potential patients staying away from treatment in order to protect their privacy.
Yes, it is a slippery slope. But I am willing to take that slide if there would be real benefit and recognized limits on who the information is shared with and how it will be used. The public has a right to be involved in any discussion.