‘Safety at risk’: Labor slams DFAT privacy breach

Labor has labelled the disclosure of the private email addresses of more than 200 stranded Australians an "unacceptable error", warning it places the group of vulnerable citizens at further risk.

Potentially hundreds of Australians stuck overseas have had their emails accidentally revealed to one another by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

DFAT accidentally included the email addresses of hundreds of Australians stranded overseas in the email.Credit:Jason South

Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said the disclosure of private emails was "an unacceptable error placing this group of vulnerable Australians at further risk".

"But what is also unacceptable is what else the emails reveal: that stranded Australians must be destitute to get any assistance from the Morrison Government – and then that assistance will plunge them deeper into debt," she said.

"And they confirm that there is still no real plan from Scott Morrison to bring help stranded Australians get home."

The addresses were included in an email sent to hundreds of recipients on Wednesday by the COVID-19 consular operations section of the department.

The department contacted Australians offering them interest-free loans if they had been financially hurt by delays caused by the cap on citizens returning to Australia.

The message told the Australians the loans were available for "the most vulnerable Australian citizens whose return to Australia has been impacted by the restrictions arising from Covid-19".

DFAT then sent an email to the recipients hours later saying it was mistake to disclose the email addresses and asked them to immediately deleted the message.

"Refrain from any further forwarding of the email, to protect the privacy of the individuals concerned," the email stated.

"We will resend the email with the relevant protection of your email address.

"I want to assure you that the department takes privacy and the handling of personal information very seriously. We have reviewed our internal processes and have taken measures to ensure such mistakes do not happen again."

Some of the recipients, who wished not to be named, said they feared it could compromise their safety at a time when they are trying to get home.

"It's a gross breach of privacy," one recipient said.

DFAT has declined to respond to a series of questions put to it by this publication, instead referring to a tweet it sent out last night apologising for the error.

"We apologise for unintentionally disclosing email addresses of stranded Australians we’re trying to help get home," DFAT said in the tweet.

"No other personal information was disclosed. We want to get you home, and are working as hard as we can to do so."

The Morrison government last month announced a new hardship fund to hand out loans to Australians stranded overseas.

All loans must be repaid within six months, and people's passports could be cancelled if they don't pay them back.

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