October 16, 2014 | the guardian
Stolen information on Nauru asylum seekers includes case files, medical histories and protection claims.
The personal details of hundreds of asylum seekers on Nauru have been stolen in a second major data breach within Australia’s immigration detention system.
At least two hard drives, not password-protected and containing the personal details of hundreds of asylum seekers, including children, have been stolen from detention camps this year.
The sensitive information stolen includes detainees’ complete personal details and case files, medical histories, as well as their protection claims detailing why they felt forced to leave their home country to claim asylum in Australia.
The stolen files also contain case worker notes on detainees, including mental health and behavioural issues, complaints about treatment and allegations of abuse, and the minutes of “vulnerable minors meetings” where the issues faced by children in detention were discussed.
None of the information has been recovered after several months.
Guardian Australia understands the asylum seekers have not been told their personal information has been stolen.
In February, Guardian Australia revealed the personal details of nearly 10,000 adults and children in immigration in detention had beeninadvertently posted on a public website by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
This week, the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said the department website would be secure in future.
“In that case, the weaknesses that were identified have been rectified,” Morrison said.
But the minister’s office has not responded to queries regarding the lost Nauru hard drives, the nature of the information lost, or who might have accessed it.
The theft was first reported by SBS, but more details can now be revealed.
Internal correspondence seen by Guardian Australia says one of the Nauru hard drives was stolen from an office tent in a detention centre in April.
“Obviously this is concerning for several reasons. It contains documents with clients’ personal details … it highlights how unsecure the office tents are,” it says.
A series of emails highlights the lack of security in the camps, detailing that mobile phones, hard disks, laptops and fans have been stolen, including from locked cabinets.
“There is nowhere to store keys at the moment which means that the keys to our storerooms and shipping containers which have thousands of dollars worth of equipment in them are kept out in the open,” one email said.
A second hard drive, containing sensitive child protection information, was stolen less than a month later.
A manager from Wilson Security promised to review security in response to the thefts.
A spokeswoman for Save the Children said the protection and wellbeing of the children and families on Nauru was the organisation’s highest priority.
“We are therefore extremely concerned about the loss of data on Nauru. An internal investigation has been undertaken into what happened and how it happened,” she said.
Executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, David Manne, said the alleged loss of asylum seekers’ sensitive information was a “grave concern”.
“It is a fundamental principle of refugee law that a person who is seeking asylum must be free to make that claim without fear of their privacy being breached and without fear of disclosure of that personal information, possibly to their persecutors, the very people they are fleeing,” he said.
The disclosure of asylum seekers’ personal information, especially if it might be able to be accessed by the people, government, or group an asylum seeker is fleeing, could be grounds, of itself, for the granting of refugee protection, Manne said.
“We are aware of several cases where information people have given in their protection claim has fallen into the hands of agents of persecution, and that has put already vulnerable people at a heightened risk of persecution,” he added.