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Blunder sees Civil Service circulate email addresses

By Brett Campbell

A government department has written to hundreds of individuals who have been affected by a data protection breach caused by "human error", in an effort to contain the incident.

The mistake was made by an employee in the Central Appointments Unit of the Executive Office last Tuesday when an email about two public appointments in the Department for Communities was issued.

"Unfortunately, this email displayed the email addresses of all recipients and, as such, was not in accordance with Departmental data protection practice or guidance," an apologetic email sent to those affected stated.

"Immediate attempts were made to recall the email in the mistaken belief that this action would rectify the error.

"These emails were sent accidentally and were due to human error, and we sincerely apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused."

The private email addresses of hundreds of people were revealed in the communication advertising a vacancy on the board of Libraries NI and other vacant positions on the board of Ulster Supported Employment Ltd.

The clarification email sought to reassure individuals whose personal data had been mishandled by pointing out that similar communications are issued "on a regular basis without any incident or irregularity".

It also stated that this is the first occasion an error has occurred, and contains departmental advice urging recipients of the email to "help us contain this incident" by deleting it.

"We wish to assure you that the Department takes the protection of your personal data very seriously, and every step will be taken to avoid a recurrence of this error," it stated.

"For example, staff have been reminded of the procedures for, and importance of, protecting personal data."

The email stated that it had been sent to bring attention to the incident and to demonstrate the department's "openness and transparency" in such situations, but it was also intended to give those who may be affected the opportunity to take steps to protect themselves.

"Please also note that the issue has been reported to the Information Commissioner's Office," the email added. Anyone with concerns about this incident or about the personal data held by Central Appointments Unit concerning them is advised to contact the department.

A spokesperson for the Executive Office said the data breach was caused by human error and that all those affected have now been informed.

They also confirmed that the Information Commissioner's Office has been made aware of the breach and has confirmed receipt of the notification.

Belfast Telegraph

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