The “ti problem” all of a sudden looks BIG

June 6, 2014

Originally appeared on Le Mauricien. I’ve put it here for better screenshots.
Beginning of the week I lodged two complaints at the Data Protection Office. One regarding the Privacy Breach over the Feedback/Complaint form on the MNIC website and the second regarding a spreadsheet containing over 9,000 names & professional details of citizens operating in the Tourism industry, that was publicly viewable on a Government website. After 24 hours, while I still didn’t receive any notification about the complaint status, I verified the links that were initially on the website. They were still there. However, the file was modified and certain columns that contained phone and identity card numbers were removed. Still, if one would scroll down the sheet, ID Card numbers could be found on other locations.

The next day, I had a look at the file again, it was the same with a few columns deleted. Initially, I informed the Data Protection Office that the page is indexed by search engines and consequently the files are easily accessible via Google. I contacted the Data Protection Office to have an update. Hours later I was informed that the files have been removed. I went on the website and indeed the links were no more there. However, from a technical point of view un-linking a file and deleting a file aren’t the same thing. To assure myself I searched for the file using Google search. What I saw made me smile with a grin. The file was still there and not with the missing columns but with all the other details like official references, ID Card numbers, passport numbers, phone numbers and official comment/remarks. I replied the Data Protection Office that sadly, the file is still online. Till date, I didn’t receive any reply. The next day the file was taken off.

One week is almost over and I haven’t been re-contacted or notified by the Data Protection Office since my last email. I do not even know about the status of my complaint over the MNIC website.

Well, while the original file that I complained about was removed, other such files still lurk the Government website. With recent press articles & comments around the web I felt that many are incriminating the “webmaster”. I’d like to highlight something here, a webmaster might be responsible for uploading the file but he might not necessarily be aware of the contents. Incriminating a “webmaster” in this situation would not be totally fair.

With another file that is still on the server & accessible to public via Google search, I was able to “maybe” analyze how the mishap happened through a webmaster.

I opened the spreadsheet and noticed a sheet called web which contained few details that would be suitable to be uploaded online. See image below with the red mark at the bottom left.


The same file contained another sheet named main that held a lot more information which, according to me shouldn’t be publicly available as it contained official references, phone/mobile numbers, etc. See below image with red marks.


The web named sheet could be what was intended to go on the website. However, due to some mishap, lack of communication or maybe reckless manipulation, the whole spreadsheet went on the Internet. If this scenario could explain the mishap, then I would have really appreciated the public was informed accordingly by the authorities rather than playing a cover-up & pretending it to be a “ti problème”.

What some may call a list of over 9,000 professionals a “ti problème”, let’s analyze its business impact. The list as already published by media, referred to licensed skippers in Mauritius. It revealed the name, phone numbers, ID Card numbers, the type of license (Private or Commercial) among other details. When thinking of skippers we picture speedboats & catamarans in our mind, right? Now, let’s say a private investor intends to do a Catamaran business in Mauritius. While he is still planning his business strategy someone approaches him & proposes to sell him a list of 9,000 licensed skippers, giving him an overview of the business in Mauritius, how many commercial & how many private, how it’s spread around the island etc. Now, the “ti problème” all of a sudden looks big & highlights the issue that surrounds privacy.

On this note, I hope to have cleared doubts as to why official files going public could cause prejudice to some people.