The harassment and slander of public servants by "aggressive" online trolls has prompted a plea from the Australian Public Service Commission to keep their details out of documents obtained under freedom of information laws.
In submissions to a consultation by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, the agency calls for legislation to reflect the increasing role of technology in requests; particularly, through the Right to Know service, which points users towards pseudonyms.
Some people adopted public servants' identities, or the identities of their family members, when making FOI requests through the website; a practice described as "bullying" and "trolling" by the commission, and condemned by the Community and Public Sector Union.
"The extent of the risk to our members is now greater - both in terms of how easy it is to find them and potentially their families on the internet, and also the scope of uses their information could be put to," acting national secretary Melissa Donnelly said.
"Our members deserve a safe workplace, and that includes making sure they are safe from identity theft or unwanted contact, like stalking."
The agency claims the transition from paper to web for documents' disclosure has seen public servants tracked down on social media. Bullies are lead to a trove of "photographs; friends' and family members' identities and photographs; employment histories; social activities and interests; personal opinions, including political opinions, and so on".
FOI guidelines state the inclusion of public servants' details in documents is generally not unreasonable except for in "special circumstances"; it simply shows public servants are "performing their public duties".
But the commission argues public servants cop unwarranted blame for whatever information is, or isn't, released under FOIs.
"In the commission's experience, anonymous and pseudonymous FOI applicants are more likely to use aggressive language and make unsubstantiated allegations in pursuit of speculative theories and agendas," the agency said.
"For example, statements in the nature of 'the [agency] has acted illegally and improperly' [and] 'Ms X, public servant has engaged in obfuscation ... breached her legal obligations'.
"For Right to Know FOI requests, this discourse is conducted publicly on that website and remains there as a lasting record, personally connecting APS employees with that commentary."
Inclusion of public servants' details caused them unnecessary stress and anxiety, and could have a "serious effect" on their health and wellbeing in the workplace, the commission said.
Electronic records, like long email chains, meant more public servants were being implicated than in the past. Disclosure was not something "that could be undone", and it was reasonable to assume that public servants would object to their personal information being shared.
Details of public servants in processing or advisory roles were generally not freely available - as opposed to those in the senior executive service, which could be reasonably disclosed - and generally had little relevance to the FOI applicant.
"If that personal information is not publicly available or well known, the commission submits that the test of unreasonableness would generally be made out, and that the relevant agency should not be required to show that 'special circumstances' exist," the agency said.