G20 world leaders' personal information leaked in 'email error'
Australian G20 organisers have been left red-faced after it was revealed an email autofill error led to a leak of passport details for 31 world leaders, including Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and more.
Claire ReillyFormer Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
ExpertiseSpace, Futurism, Science and Sci-Tech, Robotics, Tech CultureCredentials
Webby Award Winner (Best Video Host, 2021), Webby Nominee (Podcasts, 2021), Gold Telly (Documentary Series, 2021), Silver Telly (Video Writing, 2021), W3 Award (Best Host, 2020), Australian IT Journalism Awards (Best Journalist, Best News Journalist 2017)
Last November, Australia held the G20 Leaders' Summit, with the east-coast city of Brisbane hosting dignitaries including US President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
It has now emerged that a staff member at Australia's Department of Immigration mistakenly sent the personal information of all the leaders attending the summit -- which included passport numbers, dates of birth and visa numbers -- to the Local Organising Committee of the Asian Cup international soccer tournament.
According to the email obtained by The Guardian, the Department of Immigration advised Australia's Privacy Commissioner of the privacy breach on November 7, 2014, seeking "urgent advice... given the sensitivities involved".
Despite the profile of the individuals involved and the extent of information leaked, the breach came down to "one email and one email address".
"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 email from the Department's Director of Visa Services reads.
"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."
According to the Department report, the unintended recipient of the email immediately advised that the staff member had "sent the email to the wrong person", that it had been deleted and had not been forwarded or copied to a backup system.
The revelations come just days after Australia passed major new laws requiring every Australian ISP and telecommunications provider to store the phone and Internet metadata of their customers for a compulsory period of two years.
With mandatory data retention already facing opposition from legal experts, media groups, civil liberties advocates and the Australian public, this latest breach has the potential to raise further privacy concerns and questions about the security of data storage in Australia.
Currently, Australia does not have laws in place requiring the mandatory disclosure of data breaches, whether they are caused by government organisations or private companies. While the new Data Retention Bill did not originally include any changes to this status quo, amendments brought in by the Federal Government (after opposition push back) will now see data breach laws introduced within the year.