The Privacy Commissioner found that an agency breached the privacy principles of safeguarding personal information and preventing its disclosure when an agency failed to check its standard templates.

An individual completed a form of the agency and filled it out with her personal information.

Several months later the individual was contacted on her personal social media by a stranger attaching a photo of her completed form. The stranger informed the individual that they had been sent the form by the agency with the individual’s personal information in error.

The individual complained to the agency and the agency found that the individual’s form with her personal information had been accidentally sent to a number of other email addresses over a period of nine months.

A staff member of the agency had saved the individual’s completed form as a blank template to her work desktop for easy access.

While the front page of the template was blank, the rest of the pages included the individual’s completed form.

The staff member sent this form to clients directly from her desktop and one of the recipients was able to locate the individual on social media and contact her. Additionally, another recipient contacted people who knew the individual and revealed her personal information to them.

The individual made a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner. The Privacy Commissioner found that the agency’s failure to protect the individual’s information was a serious breach of privacy which resulted in significant humiliation, loss of dignity, and injury to the feelings of the individual.

Furthermore, there was no way for the agency to guarantee the individual’s personal information was not being circulated even after contacting all the recipients.

The agency paid the individual $15,000 in compensation for the interference with her privacy.

The Privacy Commissioner advised that it is important for agencies to strengthen their internal privacy guidelines and create simple processes for staff to access standard-form templates and documents.

This will avoid the risk of staff members saving precedents to their own desktop which may contain personal information. Staff members should also get in the habit of diligently reviewing all attachments before sending them to others, to avoid a privacy breach.

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