A public servant was approached in public by a disgruntled client, others have been followed home and received threatening emails, letters and phone calls when their names have been made public, department bosses have revealed.
Public service leaders have overwhelmingly called for a new policy to exempt the names of junior officers being included in documents released under Freedom of Information requests, referencing disturbing examples where members of the public have got hold of public servants' names.
"A client searched for a staff member of the Department on social media following a negative determination on a claim," the Department of Veterans' Affairs has told a consultation by the Information Commissioner on the issue.
"By coincidence an unconnected administrative staff member at the office with lax social media setting had the same name. The client mistakenly confronted the staff member in an aggressive, escalated manner in a public place after mistaking the staff member's identity."
Veterans' Affairs, Human Services and other departments with public-facing functions have used harrowing stories to call for changes.
A client calls Veterans' Affairs up to 125 times a day, with threats, verbal abuse and "racially motivated comments" aimed at specific staff members, while another continues to send staff at the department up to 80 emails a month, adding more staff as their email addresses are identified.
In another case, a client posts staff members' details publicly on social media, attempting to shame them.
According to the Department of Human Services, seven staff have needed help to take out court-ordered personal protection orders against clients who had gained access to their names and personal information. Human Services staff have been harassed, abused, threatened and followed outside of work, including to their homes.
The Human Services submission also referenced an incident in New Zealand in 2014, where a man with a grievance shot and killed two staff members at a Department of Work and Income shopfront.
A staff member at the Department of Employment was even harassed after they were identified when their signature was included on a ministerial document. Another was "subjected to inappropriate contact, and obsessive and seemingly threatening behaviour by a client of a previous employer".
A partially pixelated photo of a Home Affairs worker, his address and Google maps photos of his home were published online after he become the target of hate emails, resulting in his wife and children being briefed by the Australian Federal Police and and a "back to base alarm" installed at the family home.
It's believed the photo, of the staff member and his children on a family holiday, and been found by a member of the public on his son's Instagram account.
"This example demonstrates the efforts some parties will pursue to intimidate, threaten or cause harm to departmental staff and their families," the submission said.
Another staff member's partner found threatening letters in their letterbox, including knowledge children lived at the house and asserting that the staff member was personally responsible for "the torturing of individuals in Regional Processing Centres".
"The resultant stress to their family had a lasting effect and the staff member felt the need to leave the Department and the APS," the submission said.
Home Affairs also told of a staff member being found on social media, which was then used to find their phone number and show up at their house to argue about a visa outcome.
A junior Treasury officer named in a document released under Freedom of Information "was subject to a large volume of nuisance calls," the department wrote, saying the incident led to a change in policy.
"The bulk of FOI requests received by the Treasury are submitted by journalists seeking information that is often politically charged or highly sensitive in nature. This information is potentially subject to wide media exposure. Our concern with the release of staff names is to protect staff from their names becoming associated with these matters and being subject to that exposure."
Staff at CSIRO "are now more apprehensive when engaging in internal correspondence about potentially controversial science topics" after being involved in a Freedom of Information process, the agency said.
"CSIRO Officers have been contacted, inappropriately and even threateningly, in relation to documents released under the FOI Act."