Australian National University's new background check policy could lead to discrimination and have a chilling effect, staff and privacy advocates say.
Australian Privacy Foundation board secretary Roger Clarke said the ANU's policy went well beyond other institutions and lacked justification for gathering sensitive data about its workers.
"I think it's quite extraordinary. I haven't seen anything like it," Dr Clarke said.
The university introduced a new policy in March which requires all current and prospective staff to have a working with vulnerable people check.
A background check through Access Canberra was required even if staff did not have direct, unsupervised contact with children or disadvantaged adults accessing support services.
Staff could also be subject to criminal record checks, medical clearance, retrospective media and anti-money laundering checks depending on their position.
A university spokesman refused to say how much private company MakeSure was being paid to complete the background check, citing commercial-in-confidence.
A committee chaired by the human resources director Nadine White and comprised of university executives and lawyers would review any criminal offences or other concerns unearthed during checks. They would decide whether the staff member could keep their job or if prospective employees could be hired.
In a letter to ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt in April, Dr Clarke said the collection of the personal data would have a chilling effect on staff behaviour.
National Tertiary Education Union ANU branch president Simon Copland said the rollout of the background checking policy was ad hoc, with some colleges requiring all types of checks for their staff.
He said the union was calling for greater transparency on the criteria for a successful background check.
"It's really unclear how our staff can appeal that process, because it just kind of goes to this committee that's meeting behind closed doors without any clear procedures," he said
Mr Copland said a criminal record shouldn't bar prospective staff members from working at the university, especially in the fields of criminology where experience of the justice system could be valuable.
"A lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have said that they're really concerned not just about not getting a job here, but even about having to go through the process in the first place because they don't trust the systems," he said.
"We want to have a university that is safe for everybody. We don't think this is the best way to go about that.
"These kind of background checking policies end up actually impacting marginalised communities even more, even if they're designed ostensibly to help them."
An ANU spokesman denied the new system would prevent marginalised groups from applying to work at the university.
"ANU follows all laws regarding anti-discrimination and anyone is welcome to apply to work with us. We have robust policies in place against discrimination. The university also has proactive and robust hiring policies in place to encourage applications and appointments from underrepresented groups," he said.
The spokesman said background checks were confidential and not disclosed to any individual except on a need-to-know basis. A privacy impact assessment was conducted on the MakeSure system, he said.
"Background checks will only note activities that put the safety and wellbeing of our community at risk, and in particular vulnerable people. Notifiable incidences will only be recorded if they involve a criminal offence against a vulnerable person," the spokesperson said.
"For offences which are not relevant to a staff member's role or do not affect campus safety, no further action will be required."
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