An Afghan teacher who has been in hiding with his wife and two children since the Taliban takeover last August has been told by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office that his personal details have been passed on to a member of the public “in error”.
The data breach is the first known leak under the government’s Afghan Citizens Resettlement Schemewhich prioritizes those who have assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan and vulnerable people, including members of minority groups.
The man and his family are of a religious minority and speak limited Dari or Pashtu, having spent many years abroad.
Those wishing to apply for transfer to the UK through the ACRS must complete an “expression of interest” form. The family’s personal details from this form were leaked to another Afghan citizen, putting them at risk of being found by the Taliban.
In correspondence seen by the Guardian, the ACRS team alerted the man to the leak and said: “In accordance with the general data protection regulation (GDPR), I am writing to inform you that some of your personal data has, in error, been forwarded on to another member of the public who had submitted an expression of interest for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS) … which contained personal data, including your name and background details.”
They added: “We have reviewed our processes in light of this event and taken steps to avoid it happening again.”
The FCDO said the data leak has been reported to the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office and all the family’s details have been deleted. The department has assured the family none of their personal information has been shared.
The former teacher, his wife and two children are extremely distressed and say this is an “unforgivable government error”.
“What is really upsetting and unsetting is the fact that instead of being the source of comfort and sanctuary, the British government has regrettably become the source of unimaginable pain and danger for us. These errors could be lethal,” the man said.
“I am so frustrated with the blunders and non-responsiveness from the government during such a difficult year. Now I am lost for words that this has happened. I am more exposed and at risk of being misidentified as a British spy, because I worked abroad for so long. We are extremely shocked… It is so distressing for us all,” he added.
The FCDO and the Home Office have joint responsibility for processing ACRS applications.
The government says it aims to resettle more than 5,000 people through the scheme in the first year, once the window for expression of interest forms closes on 15 August.
Anyone resettled through the scheme will receive indefinite leave to remain in the UK, and will be able to apply for British citizenship after 5 years in the UK under existing rules.
The ACRS scheme runs separately to the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap), which offers relocation to those who worked directly for the British government, including interpreters and security guards.
An FCDO spokesperson said: “The FCDO takes its obligations under the general data protection regulation (GDPR) very seriously. As soon as we discovered the incident we reported it to the Information Commissioner’s Office and the individual affected in line with our obligations under GDPR.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism