Belfast Telegraph

PSNI open probe into claim of internal data leak to loyalist paramilitaries

Police have confirmed they are investigating newspaper claims personal data of hundreds of individuals was leaked to loyalist paramilitaries.

The Irish News reported that information, which contained emails and passwords belonging to both businesses and private citizens, was given to loyalists by the Paramilitary Crime Task Force.

The paper said a number of devices were taken by police as part of an investigation and were later returned to their owners. However, information was shared through a pen drive that was left in one of the devices, it was claimed.

The Irish News said it has seen files that show the information of the citizens and businesses concerned, but would not be making any of the details public.

It is not known why the PSNI was gathering information on the people whose information was shared.

"The IRA had to go to the trouble of breaking into Castlereagh, we've been handed this information without having to leave the house," a loyalist source told The Irish News.

"It raises the question what are the PSNI doing with this kind of information in the first place."

The Police Ombudsman said it had made contact with the Information Commissioner about the matter.

SDLP Policing and Justice Spokesperson Dolores Kelly MLA said the claims were "extremely alarming" and contacted senior police.

She added: "The SDLP now await a more fulsome statement from the PSNI to allay public fears and to clarify their action plan to get to the bottom of this potential security breach.”

Sinn Fein said it would be demanding urgent answers from Chief Constable George Hamilton.

“This scale and nature of this breach is shocking and will cause huge concern to those affected,” MLA Linda Dillon added.

“I am seeking an urgent discussion with both the Chief Constable and the Ombudsman and I will be demanding a rigorous investigation into this scandal.

“People deserve answers and they need to know that measures will be taken to ensure this never happens again. Those affected also need reassurance that whatever steps are required to ensure their safety are put in place.”

Initially, in a statement, police said there was no report of the matter made through its official channels.

They later said an investigation had begun.

Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray added: “We take these allegations extremely seriously and have now commenced an investigation into the contents of the newspaper article.

"To date, it remains the case that PSNI has not been made aware of any data loss through our internal reporting mechanisms.

"We are seeking to validate the contents of the article and establish if PSNI is indeed the data owner. 

"We appeal to anyone who may have knowledge or possession of the alleged pen drive to contact police.”

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