Government Says It ‘Needs To Keep Up With The Times’ And Monitor Welfare Recipients’ Social Media

Yesterday it was revealed that State and Federal Government agencies are monitoring the social media and eBay accounts of Centrelink recipients, and using that data to prosecute fraud claims against them.

In response, The Department of Human Services has told Gizmodo it is “serious about protecting the integrity of Australia’s welfare system and conducts extensive compliance activity,” and will “take action to ensure those who attempt to deceive the Department are caught and held to account.”

“As technology changes, the Department’s fraud investigation methods need to keep up with the times,” said Department of Human Services General Manager, Hank Jongen. “We have an obligation to the taxpayer to use all avenues available to us when we are investigating fraud.”

In terms of how social media surveillance is used, it is an “information source which can be used to establish a lead or to substantiate evidence provided through other channels.”

Despite contracts for “optical surveillance” for the department being revealed, Jongen stated that the department “does not contract private investigators or other external parties to monitor the social media and eBay accounts of Centrelink recipients.”

Social media check are carried out on a “case-by-case basis” by “the department’s trained fraud investigation team.”

For eBay users, Jongen says “This isn’t about chasing people who go on eBay as a legitimate hobby or who occasionally sell personal items. The eBay data-matching program cross-checks Centrelink records against the details of 15,000 eBay users who have sold upwards of $20,000 worth of goods during the last financial year.”

“Where markets such as eBay develop and become popular, the department establishes compliance programs to detect people who receive welfare payments without disclosing their true income.”

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