City of Ballarat privacy nightmare: resident details posted online

More than 70 Ballarat residents have had their home addresses – and in some cases phone numbers and email addresses – leaked by City of Ballarat. 

The personal details appeared as part of a list of 73 residents who had made submissions to the review of City of Ballarat’s CBD Car Parking Action Plan.

The list was an attachment to the Ballarat City Council’s agenda for tonight’s ordinary meeting, which was first posted online on February 9. Details were later redacted. The Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC) is currently assisting the council to investigate the leak.

The list included the personal details of a number of eminent Ballarat personalities and those with sensitive professions, including lawyers, doctors, business owners and police officers.

City of Ballarat did not respond to The Courier’s questions about how the privacy breach occurred, how long the information was available online or what processes would be put in place to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

Former Ballarat mayor James Coghlan had his personal details included in the document. He said he supplied council with his address and phone number during a meeting on the parking plan’s review, and had not received notification of the privacy snafu.  

When things like this do leak out inappropriately, what it does is upset some other people significantly, and it tends to probably put them off getting involved in debate in the future.

James Coghlan, former Ballarat mayor who had his phone number and home addressed posted online

“It’s obviously unfortunate, and that shouldn’t have happened, but I’m not particularly offended by it personally,” Mr Coghlan said. 

“I think they ought to apologise to those who it has happened to, because once those details are out there, they’re floating around and around forever."

A search of the properties of the redacted PDF for the agenda found the document was last modified/changed on Monday February 12 at 2.44pm. The City of Ballarat webpage it is hosted on was last modified on the same day at 3.27pm. 

Privacy leak: James Coghlan, who was Ballarat’s mayor for three one-year appointments in the 1990s, had his personal mobile number and home address accidentally shared by City of Ballarat.

Privacy leak: James Coghlan, who was Ballarat’s mayor for three one-year appointments in the 1990s, had his personal mobile number and home address accidentally shared by City of Ballarat.

The non-redacted PDF of the agenda was available for download from the website from February 9.

Safety fears

No one contacted by The Courier about the leak had been advised by City of Ballarat that their personal information had been posted online. 

A Ballarat police officer whose home address appeared on the list said the breach could have seen their family’s safety compromised. 

“It’s clearly a huge breach of privacy, but it’s a massive personal safety issue and more importantly, the safety of my family is at risk,” the police officer said. 

“I’m particularly disappointed they’ve known about it and not contacted us, so we could have some awareness and put in some basic measures.”

Ordinarily you might see someone sitting out the front of your house, and you wouldn’t think anything of it. If they’d told us, we’d notice any strange behaviour and my family could have been prepared.

An anonymous Ballarat police officer, whose home address was leaked

A data breach is defined by the OVIC as the “unauthorised access to or unauthorised disclosure of personal information”, where any reasonable person would conclude disclosure would be likely to result in serious harm to affected individuals. 

The OVIC advises that the sensitivity of the work undertaken that those who have private information leaked can increase the severity of a breach. 

Investigation underway

Victorian Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel said City of Ballarat had contacted the agency and they were “actively engaging with the City of Ballarat to assist its staff to investigate this matter.”

“Members of the public who believe they have been adversely impacted should contact the City of Ballarat in the first instance,” he said. 

“Respecting personal privacy is a vital part of the trust between the community and government and my staff are available to individuals and Victorian agencies to assist in such matters.”

What to do if you think you’ve been impacted by the disclosure of private information

  • Contact City of Ballarat directly on 03 5320 5500
  • You can also called the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner on 1300 00 6842 or through the website at www.ovic.vic.gov.au

When contacted by The Courier for comment, Ballarat mayor Samantha McIntosh was unaware that a privacy breach had taken place. 

While 73 submissions were made during the review period for the Car Parking Action Plan, the number of residents affected by the leak could be higher, as many Ballarat locals who lived together or were married made joint submissions. 

Residents demand apology

Another Ballarat person, whose personal mobile number and home address appeared on the document, said they were incredibly fed up by how council had handled the parking plan review up to this point. 

“The whole parking saga has just been a schmozzle, it’s been really unprofessional and this is just the icing cake,” the Ballarat local said.  

“Council needs to issue an apology immediately.”

Cr Des Hudson said the municipality tried to avoid events like this, and he hoped City of Ballarat would contact affected residents. 

The residents of my street are feeling sufficiently disgruntled already and were considering going the Victorian Ombudsman over the parking issue, and this might just push us over the edge.

A Ballarat resident who had their home address published online

“We try as best we can to make sure all our processes are as rigid as possible, but no institution is faultless,” he said. 

“I would hope, and I think residents would hope, that they would be contacted so they have an understanding of what happened or how it happened, and what steps can be taken.”

Residents who believe they may have been impacted can contact the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner on 1300 00 6842 or through the website at www.ovic.vic.gov.au.