New year’s honours: Security fears for police and counterterror officers after addresses leaked online

Analysis by The Independent shows spike in online searches for list of addresses

New Year Honours list: Which stars have been recognised?

Officials have raised security fears over the “deeply concerning” leak of addresses in the New Year Honours list.

Counter-terror police and officers working in gang crime, royal protection and undercover operations are among those whose personal details were accidentally published on a government website.

A watchdog is investigating how the Cabinet Office came to release the information, which was available to download as a spreadsheet from 11pm on Friday, shortly after news of their honours went public.

The details were removed around an hour after the disclosure, but copies have been made and shared across the internet.

Analysis of Google searches by The Independent shows there was a spike in apparent attempts to download the document throughout Saturday and Sunday.

The Police Federation of England and Wales was among the bodies raising concerns over the mass leak.

Chair John Apter said he had contacted the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) to ensure that any measures needed to protect police officers, staff and their families were in place.

“Those who have received awards will unsurprisingly be angered and concerned about this significant breach of their personal data,” he added.

“It’s such a shame that this breach of data has overshadowed what is such a special occasion.”

The officers decorated include investigators who worked on the Salisbury novichok poisoning, Alexander Litvinenko murder, 2017 terror attacks, 7/7 bombings and “to counter the Irish terror threat”.

There was particular concern for officers honoured from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), and other recipients with judicial and military connections that may have links to the Troubles.

The PSNI said it was working with the government and would take any action necessary, but believed that no personal details of its officers had been compromised.

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland said any data breach would be “of the gravest concern” and added: “The PSNI will keep us informed as it seeks absolute certainty around the security details of our members.”

The Defence Police Federation said “significant and real security risks” remain in Northern Ireland.

Chair Eamon Keating told the Belfast Telegraph: “Individuals working for the police or security services are still checking their cars every day, altering their routes to work.

Former director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders is among recipients believed to have had their addresses compromised

“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.”

The Cabinet Office apologised and said it was contacting those affected after details relating to the vast majority of the 1,097 recipients could be viewed.

Only six people honoured for services to defence were left off the list, according to the BBC.

The list saw awards given to members of England’s World Cup-winning cricket team, as well as performers such as Sir Elton John and Grease star Olivia Newton-John.

Alison Saunders – the former director of public prosecutions – was also among the honours recipients, alongside 94-year-old D-Day veteran Harry Billinge, and 13-year-old schoolboy Ibrahim Yousaf, who raised more than £2,000 for various charities.

The list also included senior diplomats and figures from the military.

Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who was knighted, described the data breach as a “complete disaster”.

He told the Sunday Times: “Ministers need to be asking some very serious questions of those involved about how this was allowed to happen and why no final checks were carried out before the document was published.

“Everybody knows virtually everything about me. It’s much more concerning for private citizens, like those who have been involved in policing or counter-terrorism or other such sensitive cases, to have their addresses published.”

The PSNI is among the forces checking its officers’ safety has not been compromised

Lord Kerslake, who was head of the civil service between 2012 and 2014, said an urgent investigation was needed.

He told BBC Breakfast: “It is a serious and indeed extraordinary breach because this is a well-established process that has gone on in pretty much the same way for years, so I think an urgent investigation is certainly needed.

“Of course, it’s likely to be human error, as has been suggested, but we need to know how well staff were trained about the importance of maintaining security. Were they briefed on the potential consequences if this information was released?”

Silkie Carlo, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said it was “extremely worrying to see that the government doesn’t have a basic grip on data protection”, adding: “It’s a farcical and inexcusable mistake, especially given the new Data Protection Act passed by the government last year – it clearly can’t stick by its rules.”

The Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO) said it would not be providing a “running commentary” on its ongoing investigation.

“In response to reports of a data breach involving the Cabinet Office and the New Year Honours list, the ICO will be making enquiries,” a statement said.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “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 and are contacting all those affected directly.”

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