Conservatives Call for Release of Report on Mass Immigration Data Breach in Afghanistan | TSWT News

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The Conservative Party has written to Privacy Commissioner Philippe Dufresne asking him to speed up his investigation into a federal government data breach exposing the identities of hundreds of Afghans who sought Canada’s help to escape the Taliban in October 2021.

Dufresne announced on November 15 last year that his office would open a formal investigation into the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) infringement.

TSWT News first reported on the data breach on October 26, 2021.

The names of several hundred vulnerable Afghans seeking refuge from the Taliban have been leaked in emails mistakenly sent by the IRCC.

The Afghans in question fear reprisals from the Taliban. Some are in hiding from previous positions in the Afghan government, the armed forces or the judiciary, or as human rights activists.

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An email seen by TSWT News listed 200 names.

IRCC apologized to those affected by the “answer all” error.

A similar but smaller data breach involving the UK Ministry of Defense received a stronger response last month: a ministerial apology in the UK House of Commons and a departmental inquiry.

In his letter to the privacy commissioner, conservative immigration critic Jasraj Singh Hallan asked why the report is taking so long.

He wrote that Dufresne’s office “informed mine that the report on this matter was expected to be completed and released by the end of June. We were then informed that the report had been sent for review by senior management in July.”

‘Draging with the heels’

Hallan called on the commissioner to immediately make the results of the investigation public.

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A spokesperson for the privacy commissioner told TSWT News that the investigation is “still ongoing.”

“We expect the investigation to be completed in the coming months,” said Vito Pilieci.

“The privacy commissioner is taking too long to release the report to the IRCC that leaks data on Afghan refugees,” Hallan told TSWT News. “This is the time that Afghans fleeing the Taliban do not have.”

“This is in no way a knock on (the Privacy Commissioner) or officials,” he said, adding that he knows their work is difficult and they are under pressure.

“I understand that investigations may take time, but Canadians deserve to know if the government is deliberately pursuing the Commissioner with the information needed to delay the report.”

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‘Maybe the next target is my family’

The brother of a woman whose identity and photo were leaked in the data breach told TSWT News the danger has not passed for those involved — as the Taliban could at any time obtain a computer or cell phone that still contains the email exchange with details on hundreds of Afghans seeking asylum in Canada.

“After this data breach, it is a moral responsibility to give them a clear understanding and a clear answer as to why this happened, and what are the measures to protect the people living in Afghanistan, to protect them from the reaction of the Taliban this data breach,” he says. (Fearing Taliban reprisals against his family, TSWT News does not list his name.)

Outside Kabul International Airport, an Afghan baby is pushed at US soldiers over a security wire wall in a video shot by Omar Haidari on August 19, 2021. (Omar Haidari/The The Switzerland Times)

He lives in Canada, while his sister stays in Afghanistan with her children. Her husband was an Afghan army officer who was killed by the Taliban. He said the knowledge that her information is on an unknown number of devices is a constant source of fear for her.

“After every arrest or every murder, she’s afraid they might have her information,” he said. “Maybe the next target is my family, maybe they’ll come to me next time. So there’s a very negative psychological impact.”

British research done in eight weeks

He said he hoped there would be clarity sooner.

“I thought after a week, or at least a month, those people can get an answer from this committee and from IRCC. This delay, this silence, is something I didn’t expect.”

The British Ministry of Defense investigation into the Afghan data breach took eight weeks. It led to a reallocation of staff and recommended changes to training procedures.

Canada’s investigation into its data breach has lasted more than nine months.

Hallan said it is important to fix the issues that led to the leak before other vulnerable groups are affected by something similar.

“We now have a new crisis in Ukraine and we want to make sure that these kinds of data breaches don’t happen again,” he said.

“We want to make sure that our immigration system is secure, given all the recent cyberattacks around the world, and that this doesn’t happen to vulnerable Afghans, or people from Ukraine or people from any other country.”

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