Posted December 11, 2017 13:27:27 Social Security has been sued by an Australian social security lawyer and his client, who say the system should be used to protect tax returns.
The case was brought in New South Wales Supreme Court by the Legal Services Commission of New South England (LSCO), which said the Social Security Administration of New Zealand (SSA) should not be required to issue a Social Security number to anyone claiming benefits.
The lawsuit was brought by the lawyer, Mark Dreyfus, against the New South Welsh government, the Attorney-General’s Department and SSA.
The LSCO alleges that the agency’s use of the Social System Information System (SSIS) was a breach of the Privacy Act 1997.
It says SSA is using SSIS to send tax returns for people claiming benefits to the New Zealand Internal Revenue Service, and that the government’s use is a breach under the Privacy Commissioner Act.
“This is a serious breach of privacy and breach of trust, and is a crime,” said LSCO’s legal director, Richard Lloyd.
“It’s a huge violation of the privacy of those who have signed their tax returns to Social Security, and the taxpayers who are entitled to it.”
Mr Lloyd said the case had been brought to try to stop SSA from using SSIs to send taxpayers to New Zealand to collect benefits.
“The whole point of SSIS is to protect taxpayers from the risk of being audited or having their taxes wrongly deducted, and this is the primary purpose of SSIs,” he said.
“If it’s used in this way it’s a massive breach of people’s privacy, and we’re very concerned that SSA has been doing this for a long time.”
Mr Drey fumed at the lawsuit, saying the lawyers had a point.
“SSIS is a great service for taxpayers,” he told the ABC.
“And to use it for this purpose, is a huge, huge breach of taxpayers’ privacy.”
The purpose of Social Insurance is to provide the ability for people to get their tax return signed off by someone who can verify it, so that they can then file their tax documents.
“What it doesn’t do is it’s for tax evasion purposes.”
He said people should be able to sign off their tax forms with their Social Insurance number.
The Lawyers Guild of Australia said the issue was not new and the problem had been there since the 1970s.
“Social Security was never intended to be a database, it’s always been a system to secure the identity of people who are claiming benefits,” said Kate Kelly, the Guild’s director of legal services.
“We would expect that to be the case with all forms of social security, and to expect the same from the tax department.”
Ms Kelly said the lawyers would like the law to be changed to say the only way for the agency to use Social Security information was to verify it and give it to the Internal Revenue Department.
“I think that would be the most sensible way to go,” she said.
Mr Lloyd defended the agency, saying it had no intention of abusing the system and had never abused the information in the first place.
“You have to ask what they’re going to do with it,” he added.
“They’re going, what’s the purpose of the information?
Why are we using it?
What’s the benefit of using it?”
He said SSA would not comment on the lawsuit.
He said the agency was “very much looking at the data and working with law enforcement agencies and with the relevant government bodies”.
“We’re in contact with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the New Plymouth Police to see how we can work with them on this,” he explained.
“SSA has a huge compliance and audit team, and if this lawsuit was going to be pursued by the Tax Office, we wouldn’t be looking at this case.”
It’s certainly a serious matter, and certainly we will be seeking a response from the Tax Department.
“The Tax Office has declined to comment on whether it would prosecute.
In April, the Federal Government said it would introduce legislation that would give people a “right to be forgotten”.
While we will continue to enforce privacy laws to protect our constituents, we will also take appropriate action when a person has made a breach that involves an unauthorised disclosure of private information,” the Government said.