The Passport Service reported almost 100 data breaches to the Data Protection Commission last year, including more than 30 instances where passports were sent to the wrong addresses.
However, the service insists that the breaches represent a tiny fraction of its total workload and notes that steps are being taken to minimise any such issues of data and personal documents being misplaced or lost.
Some 96 breaches were reported in 2019.
“The most common nature of data breach was the unauthorised disclosure of a passport and/or supporting documents by a third party by virtue of outgoing envelopes being posted to the wrong address,” the Passport Service said.
In 32 cases, passports were sent to the wrong address. In a further 23 instances, passports and supporting documents were sent to the wrong address. There has also been seven instances of applications and/or supporting documents being misplaced by passport service staff.
It is a significant increase on previous years. In 2018, there were 49 breaches reported, for example.
However, the Passport Service has seen an increase in the number of applications submitted in the last 12 months. In 2019, 990,000 applications were processed, up from 800,000 in 2018. It means that just 0.009% of applications were subject to a suspected breach.
“The Passport Service has implemented a clean desk policy which seeks to maintain and improve security and confidentiality of all personal data held by the Passport Service and also mitigating the likelihood of supporting documents or passports being sent to a third party in error,” they said.
In addition, there were 142 complaints received by the Passport Service from members of the public — a rate of just 0.015% — which largely relate to “third party photograph providers, the requirements for documents, turnaround times, re-issuing of secure links for Passport Online and issues relating to the integrity of the Passport Service.”
Among the issues raised were the use of the Passport Online system, which allows customers to take photos at home or use digital photo providers, and turnaround times which, the Passport Service said, “are estimates”.
The service also emphasised the importance of not booking flights until you have a valid passport.
Among the complaints sent to the Passport Office was an incident in which an original copy marriage certificate was returned to a customer “torn and taped up with no explanation”. The certificate had been issued in the United States and is not easy to replace, the complainant said: “There is a duty of care on your office and its staff to look after these documents. This did not happen. It is not acceptable that people are expected to turn into your care their personal documents and these same documents not to be treated with respect at your office. Further, for it to be taped, stuck in an envelope and returned with no explanation is disgraceful.”
A separate complaint last June was frustrated at their wait time being twice as long as indicated. They were 31 days waiting having been told it would be 15: “Because of such negligence, I already lost one important flight to Riga at the beginning of June and face losing my booked holidays at the end of June, or will have to pay twice the ticket price (€400 instead of €150), which is significantly hit my budget.”