There will be no blanket rule allowing public servants' names to be removed from Freedom of Information documents under proposed new rules, but health and safety risks can be taken into account when making decisions on access to documents.
Public service agencies have been pushing for the names of junior public servants to be exempt from release in documents requested under Freedom of Information, citing harrowing stories of employees targeted once their names became public.
Documents released under FOI are also uploaded to third-party websites such as Right to Know, a development senior bureaucrats have warned is not safe for public servants.
Information Commissioner Angelene Falk, who decides policy and disputes over FOI requests, has released a position paper on reforms to the FOI guidelines on whether public servants should be named.
She acknowledges that when the Freedom of Information Act was written in 1982, there was no consideration that documents could live online forever, be access through search engines and cross referenced with social media profiles.
Public servants report being stalked, harassed and followed to their homes when their names became known.
But fears around safety must be balanced with transparency and accountability, Commissioner Falk has written in a position paper.
"Public servants should therefore come to work with a clear understanding that their actions will be subject to scrutiny, and an understanding of the important role that the FOI Act plays in promoting transparency and accountability in government," the position paper said.
Under the principles that will guide the changes, the starting position should be that including the full names of staff in documents released under FOI "increases transparency and accountability of government and is consistent with the objects of the FOI Act".
Unless a work health and safety issue is identified with disclosure of names and contact details, then full access to this information should be given on request.
"Public servants should expect their decisions, advice and actions to be subject to scrutiny through providing access to documents, but they should also have a right to work in a safe environment," Commissioner Falk said in a statement to The Canberra Times.
"In considering this issue, we have sought to balance the requirements for transparency and accountability in government with agencies' responsibility to reasonably ensure public servants are safe at work and safe from harm."
The proposed guidelines lay out how agencies should consider whether names should be excluded, and how to communicate with FOI applicants about what information is sought.
"The position provides guidance for agencies and applicants, and recommends that FOI applicants are clearly and explicitly asked if they need access to the names and contact details of public servants as part of their request," Commissioner Falk said.
"If an agency considers there is a need to exclude the names of public servants, they should consider it under workplace safety provisions. Exemptions from naming need to be considered on a case-by-case basis, and the agency must be prepared to justify them if the decision is reviewed."
The proposed changes are now up for feedback through the Information Commissioner's website.