Northern Irish police arrest man after data breach

LONDON (Reuters) – A 39-year-old man has been arrested as part of an investigation linked to an accidental breach of sensitive data last week which likely left militant groups in possession of the details of officers, Northern Irish police said on Wednesday.

The surnames, initials, work location and departments of all serving Northern Irish police officers and staff, numbering more than 9,000, were available to the public online for more than two hours last week, after they were included in error in response to a freedom of information request by a member of the public.

At the time, police said that while the data had been made available as a result of its own error, anyone who accessed the information before it was taken down “is responsible for what they do with it next” and should delete it immediately.

The breach is a hugely sensitive matter in Northern Ireland, where police 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 in the province.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said Wednesday’s arrest was made by “detectives investigating criminality linked to last week’s freedom of information data breach”.

“A 39-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of Collection of Information likely to be useful to Terrorists and is being questioned by detectives,” the PSNI said.

Police said on Monday they were confident that militant groups were in possession of the details of officers and it was their assumption such groups would use the list to intimidate or target officers and staff.

According to the PSNI’s website, it has 6,812 officers and 2,437 other staff.

“We are working tirelessly to address the risk posed to officers and staff,” Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Hill said.

“We will continue in our efforts to disrupt criminal activity associated with this freedom of information data breach and to keep communities, and our officers and staff who serve them, safe.”

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Bernadette Baum)