‘Lives endangered’ by Cabinet Office’s New Year Honours data breach

Downing Street Law and Justice Whitehall

Anti-terrorism officers, high profile politicians and famous celebrities have had their home addresses published online along with more than 1,000 recipients of the New Year Honours.

The Cabinet Office has been accused of endangering lives through the accidental publication of details which include house numbers and postcodes and said it is investigating how it happened and apologised for the incident, described by a former civil service chief as a “very serious breach of personal security”.

The government could face legal action from the people whose full addresses were published online when the full list of 1,097 recipients was uploaded to an official website on Friday. It was accessible for an hour before the mistake was rectified.

Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service said the government could also face action from the Information Commissioner’s Office, and told the BBC: “At the point when people are most happy about having received the honour and most, to have information released like this is really bad news.”

‘A complete disaster’

Conservative MP and arch Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith received a knighthood and said “very serious questions” needed to be asked by ministers about how the mistake  “was allowed to happen and why no final checks were carried out before the document was published.”

In an interview with the Sunday Times, he described it as “a complete disaster” and said: “It’s much more concerning for private citizens, like those who have been involved in policing or counter-terrorism or other such sensitive cases, to have their addresses published.”

The Guardian reports than more than a dozen counter-terrorism officers and ministry of defence employees were on the list that also included citizens recognised for social and charitable work, sportstars, civil servants, politicians and celebrities such as Sir Elton John, Olivia Newton-John and Queen drummer Roger Taylor.

Lord Kerslake was head of the civil service from 2012 to 2014 and told BBC Breakfast on Sunday the publication of their home addresses was “a serious and indeed extraordinary breach” of a well established and long running process that has gone on for many years.

‘Significant consequences’

He agreed it was likely to be “human error”, as suggested by others, and added: “We need to know how well staff were trained about the importance of maintaining security. Were they briefed on the potential consequences if this information was released?”

He said there were “significant consequences” but that it would be premature for the current head of the civil service and cabinet office Mark Sedwill to resign over the incident before “a much better understanding of why it happened”.

The anger and embarrassment caused in Whitehall is mixed with concerns about national security implications and the possibility that hostile states such as China and Russia could obtain and use the sensitive information to their advantage.

Ravi Naik, a data rights lawyer warned anyone who downloaded or copied the list to inform the ICO and not distribute it to anyone else because they too could be prosecuted and face legal action.


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