Visa applications and other sensitive documents of top executives and political figures were found lying in an open yard at a San Francisco recycling centre after they were dumped there by the city's Indian consulate, according to media reports.
Security experts said that the documents were a potential treasure trove for identity thieves or terrorists.
Among the papers found lying were visa applications submitted by Byron Pollitt, chief financial officer of San Francisco's Gap Inc., and Anne Gust, wife of California Attorney General Jerry Brown, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Also visa applications of top executives of AT&T Wireless Inc, Oracle Corp, Intel Corp, Microsoft Corp, Qualcomm Inc and Williams-Sonoma Inc were also found lying.
Information on the documents includes applicants' names, addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, professions, employers, passport numbers photos and also accompanying letters detail people's travel plans and reasons for visiting India.
"This is absolutely sensitive information," said Charles Cresson Wood, a information-security consultant. "It needs to be safeguarded," he added.
However, BS Prakash, the Indian consul general, was quoted as saying: "As we see it, the documents are not confidential. We would see something as confidential if it has a social security number or a credit card number, not a passport number."
But security experts said it wouldn't be hard to obtain someone's social security number using the information available in the consular documents.
"We have a shortage of space. We keep this material for a year, and then we have to destroy it," Pratik Sircar, deputy consul general for the Indian consulate, said.
However, the consulate didn't destroy the documents. Instead, it hired a hauling company in December to cart the boxes to the recycling centre.
"We thought it was their job to shred the material as soon as they got it," Sircar said.
Indian officials have since removed the boxes containing the documents.
Sircar said the consulate would find some other way to deal with its excess paperwork in the future.