Two serious PSNI data breaches have led to calls for the resignation of PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne, who cut his family holiday to attend an emergency meeting. Personal details of serving PSNI officers leaked into the public domain, one through a Freedom of Information request and the other through the theft of sensitive documents and a police laptop. The PSNI data breach has raised safety fears among serving officers.
The PSNI has apologised for the data breach of “momentous proportions” leading to the publication of names, personal data, locations and ranks of all serving officers and a civilian staff member. The information is potentially lethal in the hands of terrorists as it reveals sensitive information about intelligence officers.
Due to “human error”, the PSNI published the sensitive spreadsheets on the internet on Tuesday. Initially, Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Chris Todd played down the incident, but it is now feared that the PSNI data breach is far more significant. As of today, investigators believe that 345,000 pieces of data belonging to over 10,000 individuals emerged in the public domain via wrongfully published spreadsheets. The details included officers’ gender, status, service number, weekly work schedules and tasks, surname, and initials. They also list members of the various units, including the organised crime unit, port and airport intelligence, surveillance unit, telecom liaison unit, and the staff working at MI5 Holywood headquarters.
The data was publicly available for several hours earlier this week.
News of the theft of a police laptop and sensitive documents a few weeks ago revealed a second breach, adding pressure on the PSNI leadership. DUP MP Sammy Wilson hinted that Byrne’s position may no longer be tenable. Speaking to Sky News, he said:
“Right up to the chief constable level, questions have to be asked about how come the police in Northern Ireland do not have a process which ensures that information such as this is checked, rechecked, filtered out before it ever gets made public.
“That’s not the job of some lowly police officer or administrative officer within the PSNI. That’s a job which should be carried out and responsibility held for by senior police officers, right up to the head of police, because of course, he will be the one who sets the policy.”
The MP added: “I think the chief constable has to ask himself: ‘What role do I play in all of this, and is my position sustainable?'”
On Wednesday, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris spoke to Mr Byrne, describing the breach as a “very serious matter”.
Safety fears among Catholic PSNI officers
On BBC Radio 4, Ulster Unionist Party MLA and Policing Board Member Mike Nesbitt said:
“I’m very concerned and, more importantly, I think the police family are very concerned. They’re stunned, they’re angry, they’re even questioning the future.”
He revealed that some Catholic officers keep their work secret, even from family and friends.
On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon said officers may leave over the data breaches. She added:
“Even if an officer or staff member was to resign now, the people who have their hands on that information will not know about that resignation.”
These sentiments were echoed by a former PSNI officer in the Belfast Telegraph:
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) representing officers said it has received a flood of calls from worried officers. Currently, the level of threat of a terrorist attack is severe.
John Caldwell, a senior detective received life-threatening injuries when he was shot at a County Tyrone sports facility.