22 March 2014

DIBP Data Breach Litigation

The Guardian indicates that the Commonwealth government is being a less than model litigant in warning asylum seekers that they will be billed for costs if their action over the recent Department of Immigration & Border Protection data breach is unsuccessful.

I suspect that collecting the money is more easier said than done but the threat of costs will presumably deter some potential litigants.

The report states that
asylum seekers involved in court proceedings over a data breach which publicly disclosed the personal information of almost 10,000 people in immigration detention have been told by lawyers representing immigration minister Scott Morrison they will be billed for his legal costs should their cases fail.
A letter sent to asylum seekers in Villawood, who appeared in the federal circuit court for the first directions hearing into the matter, from the Australian government solicitor invited the applicants to “discontinue your proceedings” and follow “departmental processes” instead.
The letter, which also advises asylum seekers to seek legal advice should they wish to pursue their claims through the court, continues: “Please note that if you are unsuccessful the respondent minister will ask the court for orders that you pay the costs incurred by him in relation to these proceedings.”
Asylum seekers in detention centres are unable to seek employment in Australia.
At a directions hearing in Sydney on Wednesday, lawyers representing a number of asylum seekers from Villawood detention centre said they intended to bring claims for their clients under the Migration Act and the Privacy Act.
The immigration department has written to asylum seekers in detention apologising for the breach. The department has also advised it will assess the impact of the breach on a case-by-case basis. ...
Michaela Byers, a solicitor working for the applicants, told Guardian Australia that about 100 asylum seekers would also lodge complaints over the breach with the privacy commissioner next week.
In a separate article the Guardian reported
Asylum seekers whose personal information was disclosed in a data breach by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship appeared in the federal magistrates court on Wednesday in the first legal challenge over the blunder.
Lawyers representing seven asylum seekers being held in Villawood detention centre in Sydney told Justice Driver they intended to bring claims under the Migration Act and the Privacy Act. The asylum seekers listened in the courtroom with Villawood guards.
“Unfortunately these matters don’t fit neatly into the usual form … because of the unique circumstances,” said Shane Prince, who appeared for the asylum seekers.
“I would propose seeking declarations that there had been a breach of the Migration Act by the release of the information and second a breach of the Privacy Act.”
But counsel for the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said his position was that “it was premature to bring these cases before the court”.
The asylum seekers had received correspondence from the department advising them of other options they could take in relation to the privacy breach, including making complaints to the Immigration Department or the privacy commissioner.
Prince said the department still hadn’t acknowledged whether there was a breach of the Privacy Act.