Home Office published personal data of 1,600 migrants online

The Home Office accidentally published the personal details of nearly 1,600 migrants on its website, it has been revealed.

The Home Office blamed the error on the government’s transparency agenda, which requires all departments to publish information about its work in an easily accessible format.

In a written letter to parliament, minister for immigration Mark Harper wrote: “The Home Office contributes to [the transparency] agenda by regularly releasing information about its work, spend and outcomes in a publicly accessible and open format.

“This includes information about the immigration family returns process on our website.

“Unfortunately, between 15 and 28 October 2013, some personal data was available on the Home Office website as part of a spreadsheet alongside the regular data set in error.”

The personal data included names of 1,598 applicants, their date of birth, details about their immigration case type and status. No addresses or financial information was included.

Harper said that the Home Office identified the error nearly two weeks later on 28 October, and the personal information was removed. However, the extent of the exposure of the data to the public is not clear.

“The department has taken steps to establish whether the data was viewed or accessed outside of the Home Office,” he said.

“That analysis suggests there were fewer than 30 visits to the relevant webpage. It has had not been possible to ascertain whether those who visited the webpage went on to open the data sheet in question or accessed the part of the data sheet which contained the personal information.”

The Home Office has notified the Information Commissioner’s Office of the error, and is carrying out an internal investigation. It has also put in place measures to prevent a recurrence of the error and to make sure that a similar error has not previously occurred.

“Our official assessment is that the risk to those whose personal information was accessible for the period is low. However, I have instructed my officials to take steps to notify those individuals concerned, where it is possible and appropriate to do so,” said Harper.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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