'Shambolic' New Year's Honours data breach sparks security concerns in Northern Ireland
A former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable has said the data breach that led to the home addresses of those named in the Queen's New Year Honours list being published online represents an "absolute shambles".
The leak resulted in the personal details of the vast majority of the 1,097 recipients - including senior police officers and politicians - being visible online from 11pm on Friday, shortly after news of the honours went public.
The details were removed around an hour after the accidental disclosure.
The Cabinet Office apologised following the breach and referred itself to the Information Commissioner's Office, saying it was contacting all those affected.
Among those named on the list were senior PSNI officers and others with judicial and military connections.
The PSNI has confirmed it is "working closely with the relevant Government departments to determine what action, if any, needs to be taken".
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI), which represents rank and file officers, said yesterday that given the current climate of a severe terrorist threat in Northern Ireland, any data breach would be "of the gravest concern".
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A spokesperson for the PFNI said: "We have received assurances from the PSNI that as far as they are aware, no personal details have been compromised.
"The PSNI will keep us informed as it seeks absolute certainty around the security details of our members."
But former Deputy Chief Constable Alan McQuillan said the incident shows "very poor management" within the senior Civil Service and Cabinet Office.
"The Cabinet Secretary needs to deal with this complete mess, which should never have happened," he said.
"There was absolutely no reason why those responsible for doing this needed the addresses of all these people.
"Never mind the fact that they mishandled them, they should never have had them in the first place.
"Firstly, there has to be an immediate apology to all those concerned, and the second thing is we need to find out exactly what went wrong and put it right.
"Thirdly, they need to look at the responsibility for this because everybody knows what the rules are." Mr McQuillan added: "I suspect that because this is done over Christmas, it has probably been delegated to some very junior member of staff.
"Most of the senior officials will have been off for Christmas and they are being left to hang, which should not have happened.
"There should have been management there and it should have been done properly."
An official in the Northern Ireland Security Guard Service (NISGS), which protects military establishments in the province, was also caught up in the mistake.
Eamon Keating, chairman of the Defence Police Federation, which represents Ministry of Defence Police officers, who work alongside the NISGS, said "significant and real security risks" remain in Northern Ireland.
He added: "Individuals working for the police or security services are still checking their cars every day, altering their routes to work.
"If it were one of my officers I would be seriously concerned about the security implications of having their home address published, even if only for a short period of time."
In all, 97 people from Northern Ireland were awarded honours, including famous singing trio The Priests and Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody, alongside former Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton. Wilma Erskine, the former general manager of Royal Portrush Golf Club and a key figure in securing the hugely successful Open Championship for Northern Ireland in July, headed a list of 13 local sports people named on the annual list.
She was among the hundreds of honours recipients who had their personal details published online on Friday night.
Yesterday, Ms Erskine confirmed that she has since received an apology from officials.
"This won't impact on an ordinary person like me but I received an email first thing this morning apologising profusely over what happened.
"I imagine that someone has been rapped over the knuckles and I would hate to have been the person who pressed the button," she said. A Cabinet Office spokesman said at the weekend: "A version of the New Year Honours 2020 list was published in error which contained recipients' addresses.
"The information was removed as soon as possible.
"We apologise to all those affected and are looking into how this happened.
"We have reported the matter to the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) and are contacting all those affected directly."
The introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules in May 2018 increased the penalties that regulators such as the ICO are able to hand out.
It means breaches can result in the ICO issuing penalties equivalent of up to 4% of annual global turnover or £17m - whichever is greater.