Thousands of Northern Irish officers could sue force over data breach

Thousands of Northern Irish police officers could sue force after ‘massive’ data breach of personal details

  • Police Service of Northern Ireland accidentally leaked data of 10,000 employees

The Police Service of Northern Ireland is bracing itself for a multi-million-pound class action lawsuit after a data breach involving its entire force.

In the biggest information leak in its history, it accidentally shared the personal details of 10,000 employees last week.

The service’s representative body, the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI), has set up a secure system so that officers can register their interest in being part of a case if legal action is taken.

The PFNI said that so far around a fifth of the force – 2,000 rank-and-file members – have expressed a desire to be involved.

A serving officer told The Mail on Sunday that he will be adding his name to the case if it goes ahead.

(Stock Photo) More than 600 police officers working in intelligence, surveillance and carrying out secret work for MI5 in Northern Ireland have been identified on a leaked list, putting their lives at risk

The document, mistakenly released by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), identifies officers working in the most sensitive roles (Pictured: Thames House headquarters of MI5)

He said: ‘A number of legal firms have already been approaching officers. The federation has appealed to us, saying we should go through it together instead if it takes a class action. I’m definitely on board for that and I know many of my colleagues will follow suit, but away from that there are genuine concerns for the safety of officers.

‘For example, I know of one colleague who has what you might say is an unusual surname, in that there is no one else who has the same surname in the force, and he is terrified that he will be easily identifiable.’

Legal experts have estimated the force could be looking at paying out £100 million in compensation.

Russia ‘hacked Whitehall emails’

Russian and Chinese hackers accessed Foreign Office emails and internal messages in 2021, according to reports.

The i newspaper claims the attackers were able to see details of meetings and emails from ambassadors, but did not access classified information. 

Insiders at GCHQ – the UK’s intelligence, security and cyber agency – said the hacks were made possible by a staff member ‘probably accidentally’ downloading malware in an email. 

One source said: ‘It was embarrassing and caused a great stir in government.’

The Foreign Office said tonight: ‘We do not comment on security matters.’

The data breach saw information appear online for up to three hours on Tuesday.

The details included the surname and first initial of every employee; their rank or grade; where they are based; and which unit they work in, including sensitive areas such as surveillance and intelligence.

On Wednesday, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) confirmed it was investigating a second data breach, which involved the theft of a spreadsheet containing the names of more than 200 officers and staff last month. During the 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles, more than 300 police officers from all backgrounds were murdered.

They face an ongoing threat from dissident republican paramilitaries. The most recent target, Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell, suffered life-changing injuries when he was shot multiple times in Omagh in February.

Chief Constable Byrne said the PSNI are investigating the fact that dissident republicans claimed to have got their hands on the leaked list of staff.

DUP MP and former member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, Ian Paisley, said he has received ‘a lot of calls and emails from officers’.

He added: ‘This is an absolute catastrophic disaster in terms of data handling.

‘I wrote to the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, formally. I wanted to know what actions she and the Government are going to be able to take. I also wrote to the speaker of Parliament.

‘This is of such national importance. Even MI5 activities have been affected by this.

‘I think Parliament should be recalled after such a national security issue — a data breach affecting 10,000 people, affecting specialist services, affecting MI5.’

Chief Constable Byrne said he is ‘deeply sorry about what has happened’, adding: ‘We have seen an industrial-scale breach of data that has gone into the public domain’. However, he is refusing to resign.

He said: ‘I don’t think leadership is about walking away, it’s about facing up to your responsibilities. And I think the organisation needs consistency and calm heads at the moment, across the team, to lead us through what we accept is an unprecedented crisis.’

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