Immigration and Customs Enforcement accidentally posted the names, birth dates, nationalities and locations of more than 6,000 immigrants who claimed to be fleeing torture and persecution to its website this week.
The unprecedented data dump could expose the immigrants — all of whom are currently in ICE custody — to retaliation from the very individuals, gangs and governments they fled, attorneys for people who have sought protection in the U.S. said. The personal information of people seeking asylum and other protections is supposed to be kept confidential; a federal regulation generally forbids its disclosure without sign-off by top officials in the Department of Homeland Security.
The agency is investigating the incident and will notify the affected immigrants about the disclosure of their information. The agency has said it will not deport immigrants whose information it mistakenly posted until it is determined whether the disclosure affects their cases.
The government will notify people who downloaded the information that they should delete it.
ICE officials are concerned about the posting of the data — which included information about migrants who sought to avoid deportation to countries such as Iran, Russia and China — and are focused on quickly fixing the issue, an agency official said.
The agency mistakenly posted the data, which included immigrants' names, case status, detention locations and other information, during a routine update of its website.
The immigrant advocacy group Human Rights First notified ICE officials about the data breach Monday and shortly after, the agency took steps to delete the data from its website. The file was contained on a page where ICE regularly publishes detention statistics.
The information was up for five hours and officials quickly worked to take it down after being notified it had been posted.
"Though unintentional, this release of information is a breach of policy and the agency is investigating the incident and taking all corrective actions necessary," an ICE spokesperson said in a statement.
The disclosure is "embarrassing" and potentially dangerous for those affected, another DHS official told the Los Angeles Times.