Northern Ireland’s police force accidentally shared the names and work locations of every member of staff in a data breach it said would be of “significant concern” to officers who have been targeted by armed groups.
The surnames, initials, work location and department of each staff member were included in the error on Tuesday in response to a freedom of information request. The information was publicly available on the requestor’s website for about two-and-a-half hours before being removed, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said.
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There is nothing at the moment to suggest any immediate concerns to individuals’ security, Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd told a press conference.
“It is limited to surname and initial only but that will be still of significant concern for many of my colleagues, I know that, and we will ensure we will do everything we can to mitigate any security risks that are identified,” Todd said.
Officers’ data is especially sensitive in Northern Ireland as many “go to great lengths and do everything possible to protect their police identity and role”, the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, the representative body for officers, said in a statement.
The United Kingdom’s MI5 intelligence agency increased the threat level in Northern Ireland from domestic terrorism to severe – meaning an attack is highly likely – after an off-duty officer was left seriously wounded in February following a gun attack by the new IRA, one of the small armed groups opposed to peace.
Police Federation Chair Liam Kelly called for an urgent inquiry into the leak, the Irish News newspaper reported.
“This is a breach of monumental proportions – even if it was done accidentally, it still represents a data and security breach that should never have happened,” Kelly told the newspaper.
“Rigorous safeguards ought to have been in place to protect this valuable information which, if in the wrong hands, could do incalculable damage,” he said.
While a 1998 peace deal largely ended three decades of violence in Northern Ireland, police officers are still sporadically targets of armed groups in bomb and gun attacks.