The Australian immigration department accidentally leaked personal details of world leaders attending last year’s G20 summit to an organiser of the Asian Cup football tournament.
The Guardian has discovered that an employee of the agency unintentionally emailed passport numbers and visa details of, among others, US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, who were all in Brisbane for the summit. The incident has been put down to "human error".
After discovering the mistake, the director of the visa services division of Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection contacted the Australian privacy commissioner to seek urgent advice.
The email – sent on 7 November – reveals that the matter was brought the department's attention by the member of the Asian Cup's local organising committee who received the information.
The email read: "The personal information which has been breached is the name, date of birth, title, position nationality, passport number, visa grant number and visa subclass held relating to 31 international leaders (ie, prime ministers, presidents and their equivalents) attending the G20 leaders summit.
“The cause of the breach was human error. [Redacted] failed to check that the autofill function in Microsoft Outlook had entered the correct person’s details into the email ‘To’ field. This led to the email being sent to the wrong person.
“The matter was brought to my attention directly by [redacted] immediately after receiving an email from [the recipient] informing them that they had sent the email to the wrong person.
“The risk remains only to the extent of human error, but there was nothing systemic or institutional about the breach.”
According to the Department of Immigration director, the recipient deleted the email and “emptied their deleted items folder”, leading her to believe that it was “unlikely that the information is in the public domain”. Still, she recommended that the G20 leaders were kept in the dark about the incident.
“Given that the risks of the breach are considered very low and the actions that have been taken to limit the further distribution of the email, I do not consider it necessary to notify the clients of the breach,” she wrote.
The Asian Cup is an international football tournament organised by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Held every four years, the latest tournament was staged in Australia from 9 to 31 January and won by Australia itself, who defeated South Korea 2–1 in extra time in the final.
Obama and Cameron image via Shutterstock