epicenter.works has uncovered that the Ministry of Digitization and Economic Location has made a database with addresses of more than one million people publicly available at http://www.ersb.gv.at/ in the “Supplementary Register for Other Affected Persons”. The database was taken offline this week.
What data was processed?
With the introduction of the citizen card, the master number register was created to uniquely identify legal entities (LLCs, associations,..) and natural persons. This register is the basis for all “eGovernment” processing for natural and legal persons. The Master Number Register was developed in 2009 by the Federal Ministry of the Interior as a contract processor for the Master Number Registration Authority. From 2009 to 2018, the Chancellor’s Office was responsible for administering the stem numbers. As of Dec. 28, 2018, the Federal Ministry of Digitization and Business Location has assumed the function of stem number registration authority .
For this purpose, master data is used in Austria, which is administered by the Federal Ministry for Digitization and Economic Location and is required by law to keep a master data register. The (secret) master number and a link to the Central Register of Residents (ZMR) or the Supplementary Register of Natural Persons (ERnP) are stored. For legal entities, the Company Register, the Central Register of Associations (ZVR) and the Supplementary Register for Other Affected Persons (ERsB) are used.
The personal data (ZMR, ERnP) are subject to strict controls. Accesses must be logged.
What data was affected in the data leak at the Austrian Federal Ministry?
The data protection incident affected the Supplementary Register for Other Data Subjects (EfsB). Only persons who are not recorded in the Central Register of Residents, the Register of Companies or the Register of Associations are stored in this register.
Comparatively, it is a very small number of persons or organizations that are registered in this register (see Purpose and Legal Basis of the Supplementary Registers). For example, the BNDW website lists churches, congregations and working groups.
Only one entry option is provided for the supplementary register of natural persons. A search option is also provided for the register for other affected persons. This research was available at http://www.ersb.gv.at/.
The Supplementary Register Ordinance 2009 requires in § 14 that EfsB must be public.
Was the publication of personal data correct?
That anyone can query this directory was in accordance with the law. The question remains whether data was output that should not be in the directory. Epicenter.Works has posted redacted excerpts of well-known personalities online. It is noticeable that the data was entered by the Ministry of Finance.
Section 10 of the Supplementary Register Ordinance 2009 states that an entry may only be made taking into account the following points.
- at the request of the person concerned
- Institutions can register themselves and sub-organizations or representatives
- a client in the public sector in the course of a data application with master figures
How did the data leak happen at the Austrian Federal Ministry?
It looks like the Ministry of Finance has used data in this register with reference to ERegV 2009 § 10 without realizing that this data is then also publicly accessible. The Central Register of Residents is responsible for natural persons residing in Austria, and they should not appear in the Supplementary Register of Other Persons Concerned.
We suspect that an application at the Department of the Treasury is matching data to the master number register and creating it in the wrong register due to a programming error. According to what we know so far, we do not believe that (only) the program for the Hardship Fund is affected, because otherwise, for example, Alexander van der Bellen would not appear. ERnP (the secure registry for natural persons) and ERsB are also easy for programmers to confuse.
What should happen now?
Policymakers are required to correct the Supplemental Register Ordinance 2009 Section 10 to ensure that false entries are not allowed to be created.
The Ministry of Finance must clarify why it is sending data to a public registry and remedy this grievance.
Since apparently persons were registered who should not be in this register, we recommend you to make a request according to Art 15 GDPR to find out whether you are also affected. epicenter.works has provided a template for this request .
The Neos want on Friday 14.5. announce further details in a press conference. There is talk in the Neos’ remarks of a connection with the Hardship Fund. We cannot understand this connection based on the known facts.
What can we learn from the incident
It is too early to draw definitive conclusions.
The data leak at the Austrian Federal Ministry shows how a system that is correct in and of itself (the register) becomes a major scandal when another administrative body makes a mistake. The GDPR requires that a data protection impact assessment be made for critical processing operations. However, I have rarely seen a data protection impact assessment that sufficiently considers the consequences for “third-party” systems.
We will keep you updated as soon as we get more information.
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