Oz court slaps down Dept of Immigration over 2014 data bungle

Cover-ups, unfair processes, just another day in the bureaucracy

Three judges of Australia's Federal Court have delivered a ringing blow to Australia's treasurer, Scott Morrison, saying in his former role as immigration minister he oversaw a process designed to turn a data breach investigation into a failure.

The data breach occurred when the (then) Department of Immigration (since absorbed into the militaristic “Department of Border Protection”) mistakenly published 10,000 asylum-seekers' private details in part of what should have been a routine release of statistical data.

The Department hilariously demanded that journalist Asher Wolf “return” the documents she accessed in breaking the story.

The data breach became the subject of a court case when some of those whose information was published sought to overturn departmental decisions denying them asylum in Australia. In bringing their appeal to the Federal Court, the refugees' lawyers argued that “release of the information carried with it a risk that authorities and others in countries from which the protection visa applicants had come might have become aware of the fact that they had sought protection in Australia”.

Finding in favour of two of the asylum seekers, the Federal Court says the Department of Immigration's processes following the data breach were unfair.

Judges Perrin, Rares and Griffiths say the department sent out letters that told those affected they would get a chance to raise their concerns.

However, while giving the impression that the department would wait to hear from asylum seekers before making a decision, only two weeks were allowed for responses. This, the judges say, was unfair.

They also criticise the way the department tried to cover up the extent of the breach, while still putting the onus on asylum-seekers to find out how the breach may have affected them.

“The department is requiring affected individuals to make submissions to it about the consequence of its own wrongful actions in disclosing their information to third parties without revealing to them all that it knows about its own disclosures”, the judgement states.

The department is also continuing to keep secret the full contents of a KPMG report into the breach, which the judges add to the long list of examples of departmental unfairness. ®

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