Northern Ireland police examining whether militants have officers’ data

BELFAST (Reuters) – Northern Irish police are aware of a claim that militant groups are in possession of details of officers it accidentally shared publicly this week, and have not yet been able to verify if the claim is correct, the region’s police chief said on Thursday.

The surnames, initials, work location and department of all officers were made public for over two hours on Tuesday, after they were included in error in response to a freedom of information request, and published on the requester’s website.

The accidental data leak is hugely sensitive in Northern Ireland, where officers are still sporadically targeted by dissident groups in bomb and gun attacks, despite a 1998 peace deal largely ending three decades of sectarian violence.

“We are now aware that dissident republicans claim to be in possession of some of this information circulating on WhatsApp,” Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Simon Byrne told a news conference.

“We haven’t yet been able to verify what the substance is behind that claim or see any of the information that dissident republicans assert that they’d have, but we’re keeping this on under review.”

Byrne said over 500 referrals had been made to an emergency threat assessment group set up on Wednesday, when the PSNI updated personal security advice to its officers.

No officers have yet been redeployed or advised to move from their home but Byrne said the PSNI is reassessing whether some specialist officers need to redeployed away from their usual place of work to a new location.

Byrne said he had not been asked to resign at a meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board on Thursday, and did not think any senior resignations would help fix what he called an “unprecedented” and “grave” crisis.

(Reporting by Amanda Ferguson, writing by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Sachin Ravikumar)