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The private email addresses of hundreds of vulnerable Australian travellers stranded overseas have been accidentally revealed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The addresses were included in an email sent to multiple recipients before midday on Wednesday by the Covid-19 consular operations section of Dfat.
The message notified recipients that interest-free loans were available for “the most vulnerable Australian citizens whose return to Australia has been impacted by the restrictions arising from Covid-19”.
About 200 private email addresses were visible in the header of the email, which the department instantly attempted to recall. But that was not before many recipients had downloaded it.
More than three hours after sending the original email, Dfat sent another email admitting the error and asking those who had received the earlier message to delete it and not forward it on to others.
The subsequent email stated: “I want to assure you that the department takes privacy and the handling of personal information very seriously. We have reviewed our internal processes and have taken measures to ensure such mistakes do not happen again.”
Recipients were told they could contact Dfat’s privacy section if they were concerned about the handling of their personal information.
Social media searches suggest some of the people whose addresses were shared are travelling in China. An Australian businessman living in Shanghai said he at first thought the email was spam because of the long list of addresses in the header.
When he realised what had happened he said he was angry. “It’s obviously a major cock-up to reveal the email addresses of close to 200 Australians who are deemed at risk,” he said. “It’s gobsmacking incompetence.”
The businessman said the email was the first contact he had had from Dfat since he registered with the department two weeks ago following advice that Australians in China could be subjected to arbitrary detention.
“I registered with Dfat as someone who would like to return to Australia … and this is their response.”
The current travel advice on the Smartraveller website is that Australians already in China should return as soon as possible. “Authorities have detained foreigners because they’re ‘endangering national security’. Australians may also be at risk of arbitrary detention,” the advice states.
The original email that disclosed the addresses detailed two kinds of interest-free loans available to vulnerable Australian travellers – a one-off loan to cover emergency living costs and another to cover the cost of a flight home. The amounts available vary depending on the country and range from $2,500 for Central and South America to $750 for those in south-east Asia. Dfat has been contacted for comment.
Federal politicians were berated last week for “abandoning” Australian citizens overseas during the coronavirus pandemic. Witnesses told a Senate inquiry government ministers had “shamefully washed their hands” of those unable to return due to flight caps.
Despite federal and state leaders agreeing to increase arrival caps at the most recent national cabinet from 4,000 to 6,000 weekly arrivals, the inquiry heard Australians were still facing cancelled flights that had been rescheduled into 2021.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Data breach: Dfat reveals email addresses of vulnerable Australians stranded overseas | Australian politics