Northern Ireland Chief Constable grilled on data breach

Northern Ireland Chief Constable being questioned on data breach after 10,000 officers’ details are released to the public by mistake

  • Chief Constable Simon Byrne grilled by politicians on ‘critical’ data breach
  • Surname, initials, rank, role and location of 10,000 officers and staff released
  • READ MORE:  Police working with MI5 ‘at risk’ after catastrophic NI data leak

Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable is being grilled over a significant data breach that saw the names and locations of 10,000 officers released to the public.

Simon Byrne cut short a family holiday to return to Belfast to be quizzed by politicians at an emergency meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board following the ‘critical’ data breach.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has revealed that the surname, initials, ranks, role and location of all serving officers and staff were available online for three hours.

Information that could identify officers – potentially including those working undercover in dissident terrorist groups – was released in response to a freedom of information request seeking the number of officers across the organisation.

In the published response to the request a table was released which contained the rank and grade data requested – but it also included more detailed information identifying officers by their name and location.

Simon Byrne arrives at James House in Belfast to be quizzed on the ‘critical’ data breach by the Northern Ireland Policing Board on Thursday August 10

The surnames, initials, ranks, roles and locations of some 10,000 PSNI officers and staff were visible to the public for between two and a half and three hours

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has since admitted another data breach occurred more than a month ago. A spreadsheet containing the names of 200 serving officers and staff, along with a police-issue laptop and radio, were lifted from a private car in Newtonabbey on July 6

The data was potentially visible to the public for between two and a half to three hours.

On Wednesday it emerged that the theft of documents, including a spreadsheet containing the names of more than 200 serving officers and staff, and a police issue laptop and radio, from a car in Newtownabbey in July, is also being investigated.

READ MORE: PSNI declares ‘critical incident’ after 10,000 staff names including undercover officers are published online as families say the major error has left them ‘living in fear’

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd said they have contacted the officers and staff concerned to make them aware of the incident and an initial notification has been made to the office of the Information Commissioner regarding the data breach.

On Tuesday Mr Todd apologised to officers and staff over that day’s data breach, which he said was being treated as a critical incident.

He said Mr Byrne was being kept updated.

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris spoke to Mr Byrne on Wednesday about the breach, which he described as a ‘very serious matter’.

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI), which represents rank and file officers, said they have been inundated with calls from worried officers.

Police in the region are under threat from terrorists, with the current assessed level of threat at severe, meaning an attack is highly likely.

In February, senior detective John Caldwell was seriously injured when he was shot by gunmen at a sports complex in Co Tyrone.

Earlier this year, Mr Byrne said he receives briefings almost every day about plots to attack and kill his officers, adding that the ongoing threat from dissident republicans remains a ‘real worry’.

Asked whether he was considering resigning after the data breach and the subsequent admission of a further theft of data, loss the Chief Constable said: ‘No, I am not’

Ahead of the meeting, which was set to start at 10am and last for two hours, Mr Byrne said he was not considering resigning over the significant data breach.

Pressed by the Financial Times on whether he was intending to quit, he said: ‘No, I am not.’

PFNI chairman Liam Kelly said there is a need for credible explanations following the breaches.

‘This confirmation by the service makes matters worse,’ he said of the theft of the documents and laptop.

‘Urgent answers are required. How did this happen? What steps were put in place to advise and safeguard so many colleagues?

‘The major security breach was bad enough, but this heaps further additional pressure on the PSNI to produce credible explanations around data security protocols and the impact on officer safety.

‘Speed is of the essence. This cannot be dragged out as officers of all ranks throughout the service are seeking reassurance and an effective action plan containing all necessary measures to counter the damage and minimise risk.

‘I have been inundated with calls from worried officers.

‘The Police Federation has had in-depth discussions already with the PSNI senior command and they fully accept and recognise the gravity of this situation and the depth of officer anger and concern.’

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