In a historic Australia-first, the Federal Government has been ordered to pay compensation to 1,300 asylum seekers whose personal details were exposed online.
The ruling signifies a small step towards justice for the 10,000 asylum seekers whose confidential details were accidentally leaked by the Department of Home Affairs in 2014. In what has been dubbed one of the most severe privacy breaches in Australian history, the critical error identified every person held in detention on the mainland and on Christmas Island at the time, including children.
For many complainants, the publication of personal information such as their full names, citizenship, location and boat arrival details meant more than a mere privacy breach. It evoked a deep and genuine fear of identification and retribution by their countries of origin.
The monumental ruling was the result of a representative complaint made to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) in 2015. While the precise amount of compensation payable to the complainants remans undecided, Slater and Gordon and the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS), who led the matter, told Lawyers Weekly they expect the claim is “likely to result in the largest compensation figure ever to be determined for a privacy claim in Australia.”
The unprecedented judgement reinforces the importance of the fundamental right to privacy and sends a strong message to organisations holding sensitive data that they must take their obligations seriously or face the consequences.
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