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Australian bureaucrats to journalist: 'Give us back our bits'

Data downloaded can be returned, it seems

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Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection has written to a journalist requesting the return of documents downloaded from the Internet.

The request stems from the freelance journalist, Asher Wolf, discovering that the department's publication of asylum seeker statistics contained fields, not visible to a casual viewer of the document, that provided highly detailed and sensitive information about asylum seekers in Australia's controversial immigration detention system.

The information thus leaked included names, locations (which detention centre or, if the refugee is in the community, address) and other data that could be used to find or identify asylum seekers. As many have fled persecution, such information being widely available is problematic.

Federal immigration minister Scott Morrison, issued this statement, which announces an inquiry to be conducted by KPMG into how the breach of privacy occurred. Australia's privacy commissioner Tim Pilgrim is also investigating.

Now, via The Guardian's Australian operation (which published the original story), we learn the department has written to Ms Wolf requiring that she: “immediately return all hard or soft copies of the information, including copies on any storage device in your possession or control.”

Exactly how a string of bits can feasibly be “returned” to its source, The Register is unable to explain. Nor do we know whether a "used" bit is useful once returned. Bureaucrats doubtless have the answers.

Sources tell The Register that the department's efforts to scrub the documents from third-party caches have not been uniformly successful. The Register has not attempted to replicate their efforts. ®

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