The Leaked Government Files Scandal Is A Lesson In Information Protection

The Federal government is going to spin revelations of the leaked Cabinet papers in lots of ways. But the entire matter comes down to a simple fact. Information security might be backed by technology in many cases. But all the best tech in the world isn't worth a pinch of salt if humans cock things up.

This leak, which will cause great embarrassment in government and opposition ranks, is the fault of people who simply didn't do their jobs.

Here's how the ABC, who reported the find, said they came into possession of the documents. (Emphasis ours.)

The documents were in two locked filing cabinets sold at an ex-government sale in Canberra. They were sold off cheaply because they were heavy and no-one could find the keys. A nifty person drilled the locks and uncovered the trove of documents inside.

Apparently, our government is running so skint on funds or manpower that hiring a locksmith to check what was inside the cabinets was beyond their capability or capacity.

With all the attention we give to ensuring data is removed from computers, portable storage, printers and other devices that potentially store confidential information, you presume someone would be doing the same with filing cabinets.

I've carried a few filing cabinets in my time. When they're empty, they are quite easy to move. If they're heavy, it's a fair bet there's lots of stuff in them. And if you're getting rid of heavy filing cabinets from the offices of Federal government departments, it's a fair bet the documents inside could be confidential or embarrassing.

Oh - and those locks aren't designed to keep anyone but the laziest thieves out. They are trivially easy to break.

Lots of journalists have had Freedom of Information requests denied or delayed seeking the kinds of information that has been revealed in the papers. The ABC hasn't made public anything that might be dangerous to national security but revelations that refugee visa applications were being delayed at the request of the minister or that former PM John Howard was looking to dilute the rights of people arrested by police are at the very least embarrassing or damaging.

It should be noted that past governments are also implicated in the documents, with some of the wheeling and dealing about the NBN during Labor's last term in government revealed.

The big lesson here is to not be lazy when it comes to ensuring potentially confidential information isn't accidentally left on gear being sold through the local opp shop. Here's what to do instead.


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