Australia’s foreign ministry, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has unintentionally revealed the personal email addresses of over two thousand citizens currently stranded overseas after a staff member accidentally chose the wrong setting for a group email.
Addressing the breach in a post on Twitter, DFAT apologised for unintentionally disclosing the email addresses of stranded Australians they are trying to help get home and said that no other personal information was disclosed.
DFAT also noted that they were working as hard as they can to get the Australians back home.
We apologise for unintentionally disclosing email addresses of stranded Australians we’re trying to help get home. No other personal information was disclosed. We want to get you home, and are working as hard as we can to do so.
— DFAT🇦🇺 (@dfat) September 30, 2020
The details were allegedly revealed when the email addresses were carbon copied (CC) instead of blind carbon copied (BCC) into a group correspondence about the Financial Hardship Program—which allows people to take out a small loan to help fund their trip back to Australia.
Usually, the BCC function is used to hide the email addresses of recipients when sending group emails.
A spokesperson for DFAT told The Epoch Times on Thursday that due to an error the department had leaked the addresses of 2,727 individuals, but that no other personal information had been disclosed.
“The Department takes its privacy obligations and the handling of personal information very seriously,” a spokesperson said noting that the department was reviewing its internal processes and has taken additional measures to ensure this mistake is not repeated.
According to DFAT prompt remedial actions were taken in this case, with a follow-up message being sent the same day to all recipients asking them to not forward the email and to delete it from their IT systems.
DFAT also provided those affected with a point of contact to address any concerns about the mistake.
Queensland resident Melissa Ford and her partner were recipients of the email and told the ABC on Thursday that she felt incredibly uncomfortable when they received the email.
“Everyone that had that email sent to them is already vulnerable and in a desperate situation,” said Ford
“All it takes is for some idiot to get a hold of it and then take advantage of how vulnerable people are,” she said.
Ford is also concerned that her email details could be leaked and that fake emails could be sent to people who genuinely need help.
“It’s very disheartening. I don’t want my email going out to complete strangers.”
It is currently estimated that there are at least 26,800 Australians overseas trying to get back home.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said previously that he would like all Australians home by Christmas but this endeavour is being hindered by the returning traveller caps that are presently in place after the breach of hotel quarantine in Victoria.
At the National Cabinet meeting on Sept. 18, it was decided that the weekly limit on returning travellers would be increased by 2000 to 5500 this month.
This article was updated to include DFAT’s response and further information.