G20 leaders’ details leak: ‘Abbott’s govt has very peculiar attitude to data retention’

Reuters/David Gray
The Australian government’s failure to keep something as simple as personal details of leaders attending the G20 summit reveals its peculiar attitude to data retention, says Dr. Binoy Kampmark, a lecturer at RMIT University in Melbourne.

The 28 leaders who attended November's G20 summit in Brisbane became the victims of a major privacy breach in Australia. During the event personal data was mistakenly sent to a wrong email address, according to a report in a UK newspaper. Australia's immigration department, responsible for the breach, didn't notify the leaders about it.

RT:There must be a few red faces in Australia from this? It is quite embarrassing, isn’t?

Dr. Binoy Kampmark: It is given the fact that the Australian government at the moment is emphasizing the importance of data retention and keeping such material in such a manner that is readily available for authorities in the context of security given the fact that such material is so easily disclosed in such a fashion makes of course their particular cause a bit suspect.

RT:Obama, Cameron, Merkel, some of the world's most powerful figures are victim of this breach. Could the information be used in anyway?

BK: The important thing to keep in mind here is that the impact of the actual data is not going to be great in terms of the visa material, the fact of the passport material, and so on. But what is significant is that the leaders were not told about it. One of the privacy guidelines in Australia is that such leaders should be told and in fact anybody who is falling within the gambit of the Privacy Act should be informed about such breaches. In many countries it would be the same thing.

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott (C) points to photographers as he and other leaders pose for a group photo during the G20 summit in Brisbane November 15, 2014. (Reuters/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

RT:So why weren’t the leaders told?

BK: According to the breaching memorandum…it was deemed not essential that they be told. It was very much capped within immigration circles. It was kept within the bureaucracy… There was a considerable failure to appreciate the gravity of such material and data and follow through with it.

RT:Do you think it was a cover-up therefore, and how high would this cover-up have gone?

BK: I do think there are few things in terms of the cover-up in the context of it. These breaches do happen. That is the reality of it, and data material that is stored will be leaked at some point, or breached, hacked, and so forth…

RT:But the subjects were so high ranking, weren’t they?

BK: Absolutely, I think that there’s someone who is going to really answer up in the immigration department... The problem is that this current government in question, this is the Tony Abbott government has a very peculiar attitude to data retention. In other words, what this suggests I would argue is a trend that is setting the bar so high regarding data retention suggest that it’s a very flawed enterprise precisely because they can barely keep something so simple like this within wraps.

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