Australia publishes asylum seeker identities, raising safety concerns

SYDNEY Tue Feb 18, 2014 11:09pm EST

SYDNEY Feb 19 (Reuters) - Australia has inadvertently made public the identities of almost 10,000 asylum seekers, the department of immigration said on Wednesday, raising concerns it could help locate people fleeing persecution and thus place them in greater danger.

A file published on a government website by mistake held the names, nationalities and locations of nearly a third of all people held in Australia's immigration detention network. It is unclear how long the information was available to the public.

The lapse was first reported by The Guardian Australia website, which informed the government of the breach, leading it to block access to the information.

"This information was never intended to be in the public domain," an immigration department spokeswoman said.

"The file has been removed and the department is investigating how this occurred to ensure that it does not happen again."

The incident comes as Prime Minister Tony Abbott's tough stance on asylum seekers has been receiving fresh scrutiny after a series of events, including violent riots, involving its policy of transferring asylum seekers to third countries.

Australia uses detention centres in Papua New Guinea and on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru to process would-be refugees sent there after trying to get to Australia, often in unsafe boats after paying people smugglers in Indonesia.

An asylum seeker was killed and at least 77 injured on Monday in the second riot this week at the Papua New Guinea facility on Manus island, leading to calls from critics for its closure.

Britain's G4S, the world's biggest security group, is responsible for providing security at the Manus Island detention centre.

Australia's arrangement with tiny Nauru has also come under fire in recent weeks following a series of moves by the government there that critics call authoritarian and anti-democratic.

Sarah Hanson-Young of the small but influential Greens Party called the data breach, one of the largest in recent memory in Australia, an example of the government's "failure to care for vulnerable people who are fleeing for their lives".

"Thousands of refugees have had their private details published online and the government must now take that into account when considering their claims for protection," she said in a statement.

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