Government documents containing employee details found in sold filing cabinet
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Government documents containing employee details found in sold filing cabinet

The Department of Social Services has confirmed it lost government documents for several days containing the personal details of its employees, including security clearances, that were stored in a filing cabinet sold to a second-hand furniture store.

The documents were found by a Canberra resident, who told The Sunday Canberra Times he purchased two filing cabinets from an ex-government furniture store in Fyshwick in May 2013.

The documents contained employee details including phone numbers and security clearance.

The documents contained employee details including phone numbers and security clearance.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The resident, who declined to be named, said the documents were only recovered after he tried to contact the department multiple times.

The documents belonged to the then Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA), which became the Department of Social Services in September 2013.

"The documents were personnel files which had all the personal details [of employees] like home addresses and phone numbers, as well as previous positions held, CVs and security clearances," the resident said.

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"It was a two-drawer filing cabinet, and the bottom drawer was completely full."

The 2013 incident comes after several instances earlier this year of classified government documents being found in filing cabinets in furniture stores.

In February, hundreds of cabinet documents belonging to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet were sold inside a locked filing cabinet, which was then obtained by the ABC.

Days later, The Canberra Times obtained a classified notebook belonging to a top Defence official, which was found inside second-hand furniture sold at a Canberra tip.

After the resident found the employee files inside the filing cabinet, he said he called FaHCSIA but never received a response.

Upon writing to the minister of the department at the time, the department then sent two staff to collect the files.

"Once they called me, they came and picked it up the same day, but unfortunately they didn't buy the cabinet," the resident said.

Email correspondence from the department to the resident, seen by The Sunday Canberra Times has confirmed the documents were recovered in May by FaHCSIA.

"Following on from our conversation yesterday and the collection of the documents, I would like to thank you for bringing the matter to our attention," the email read.

"I can advise the matter will now be dealt with accordingly."

In a statement, the Department of Social Services also confirmed the incident took place.

A department spokesman said the department's handling processes were reviewed and updated as a result of the breach.

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"The department's current procedures require that custodians of security containers clear all contents prior to disposal," the spokesman said.

"A senior executive officer then views and independently certifies that the security container has been emptied and finally the contracted disposal agent must also check security containers prior to sale."

Andrew Brown is a journalist at the Sunday Canberra Times. Andrew has worked at the Canberra Times since 2016.

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