Saturday , June 23 2018
Internet ID data protection

Victorian Ed Dept security breach caused distress to vulnerable families

Personal, identifying details of vulnerable children were published on the Victorian Education Department’s website, and remained there for 24 hours.  In some cases from families where domestic abuse means privacy is vital.  

 The accidental publishing caused considerable distress to families of vulnerable children, who have self-harmed or been victims of bullying.

An ABC report indicated that the confidential information also included details about the students’ medical conditions.

 The report said that in four cases, the individual’s name, email address, street address and phone numbers were all published.

Susan Wight, coordinator of the Home Education Network, which represents families who homeschool, told ABC that around 120 home educating families were affected.

The mishap is said to have occurred “when submissions were uploaded to the website without having personal details removed”.

The ABC article said Susan Wight indicated, “the submissions related to proposed changes, which would make it more difficult for parents to immediately withdraw their children from school if they were experiencing serious issues”.

Susan Wight told the ABC that the incident caused particular distress to victims of domestic abuse for whom “having their details online was extremely stressful and made them feel unsafe”. 

“In some cases this is about severe bullying, self-harming, anxiety, all quite personal things and there it was online with the parent’s name. They were using the details of their very personal, in some cases harrowing stories, to illustrate why the new regulations won’t work,” the ABC quoted.

The report indicated that Education Minister James Merlino has ordered an independent investigation and the department has apologised.

“We are taking it very seriously. We have commissioned an independent investigation to identify what went wrong and to identify steps to prevent it from happening again,” she said.

Ms Wight said the system had failed the students and families: “Especially when many of these families have left the system that has failed them and here it has failed them again.

In an article published on The Age, a home educating mother whose details were published online was quoted as saying: “I was a little bit unsettled  I spent the weekend thinking about what the repercussions would be. I had written the submissions with the idea of being invisible; if i had known I would be identified it would have written it differently.”

“There were other families who didn’t make a submission because they didn’t trust the department and their worst fears have been confirmed,” the ABC quoted.

Ms Wight told ABC they hoped to get a full explanation from the department and discuss the serious nature of the issues raised in the submissions.

About Suzy Barry

Suzy Barry
Suzy Barry is a freelance education writer and the former editor of School News, Australia.

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