Privacy leak at Defence

July 22, 2012 |

The World Today reports on an egregious interference with defence personnel privacy in Defence investigates privacy leak.

It provides:

SHELEY HALL: The Defence Department has launched a formal investigation into the release of personal information about thousands of former service men and women by one of its agencies.

The information of almost 2,500 former personnel was inadvertently attached to an email survey sent to other former members, even though the department’s software initially blocked the email as a security breach.

Defence says it’s treating the matter with the utmost seriousness, and the staff members involved from the Defence Community Organisation have been counselled.

The national president of the Defence Force Welfare Association, David Jamison says the release of such information is “inexplicable”.

He’s told Naomi Woodley that it further bolsters their call to stop such files being released by the National Archives, even after 20 years.

DAVID JAMISON: We’ve been asking for this sort of information to be kept protected for some time and particularly we are concerned about the release of that sort of information after 20 years from the national archives.

So to find out that the Defence Department released this sort of information on relatively contemporary former members inadvertently is beyond comprehension.

It is one of those things that is just inexplicable in terms of the processes that they go through.

NAOMI WOODLEY: As we understand it, it sounds like human error, it sounds like it was attached inadvertently to a survey and even though the computer tried to stop the information going out, the person was told to just try again.

Has this happened before? Do you know of other cases like this?

DAVID JAMISON: Not on this scale. I mean there has obviously been inadvertent release of information that shouldn’t have gone public before but this seems to be in a class of its own.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Defence has confirmed that this information included a person’s name, their ID number, the unit in which they served, their personal email addresses and the reason and the date of their leaving service. Why are you concerned about the release of that kind of information?

DAVID JAMISON: Well, firstly it puts out in the public record people’s contact details when that really should be a decision for the individual and secondly their reason for leaving the Defence Force, they’ve given that in a survey, that was something that should never have been attached to their name.

I mean reasons for leaving the Defence Force are many are varied but in this sort of survey people are prepared to say exactly what they feel provided they remain anonymous and the value of the information is to get the real reasons for people leaving and that is less likely to happen if there is any possibility like now that a person’s name can be attributed to a particular reason.

NAOMI WOODLEY: And does this highlight the particular sensitivity about the type of personal information that is held by Defence about former personnel?

DAVID JAMISON: Well, we all realise they’ve got comprehensive files, personal files on all former members of the ADF (Australian Defence Force) and they hand those over to the National Archives.

That in itself is not necessarily something of great concern but the release of that information to members of the public without a valid reason for doing so, is just, it is not something that we support and certainly without the consent of the individual, it is something that is just not right.

NAOMI WOODLEY: And so what has the Government said to you about this?

DAVID JAMISON: Up until recently they have been reluctant to move, they have simply quoted the National Archives Act but in a recent letter I got from the Defence Minister, he is looking at the ways that he might protect some of the more personal information and particularly performance records by perhaps taking them out of the official record and handing them over to the individual when they leave the ADF, so that those records do not go to the National Archive.

That is good for the future members when they leave but for those that have been members of the ADF up until that change is made, that information becomes publicly accessible and access from people whose own right to privacy is protected because the individual whose records are being accessed is not allowed to know who is accessing his records or why.

ASHLEY HALL: The national president of the Defence Force Welfare Association, David Jamison, speaking to Naomi Woodley.


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