Second MoD data breach compromising safety of Afghan interpreters emerges

Defence minister described first error as ‘unacceptable level of service’

Rory Sullivan
Thursday 23 September 2021 09:53
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<p>A Taliban fighter is shown at a checkpoint in Kandahar on 21 September, 2021. </p>

A Taliban fighter is shown at a checkpoint in Kandahar on 21 September, 2021.

A second data breach at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) could have compromised the safety of dozens more Afghans, it has emerged.

The details of 55 Afghan citizens who might be eligible for relocation to the UK under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap) were mistakenly made public in an email, rather than being hidden to shield their identities, according to the BBC.

This comes shortly after the defence secretary Ben Wallace launched an investigation into how a similar error - affecting more than 250 people - was made.

There are fears that the two email chains could endanger lives if the Taliban were to get hold of the personal information they contained.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle were quick to condemn the government over the mistakes, with shadow defence secretary John Healey saying the breach had “needlessly put lives at risk”.

“This is the second major data breach from the MoD this year, after sensitive documents were discovered at a bus stop in Kent in June. Clearly, the defence secretary needs to get his house in order.”

Tory MP Johnny Mercer, a former soldier and defence minister, also hit out at the MoD and Home Office by suggesting they had failed in their duty to protect Afghan interpreters.

After the first Afghan data breach came to light, he tweeted on Monday that the “vast majority” of interpreters had been left behind and were “probably moving house again tonight”.

Responding to the saga, an MoD spokesperson said: "We have been made aware of a data breach that occurred earlier this month by the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy team. This week, the defence secretary instigated an investigation into data handling within that team.

"Steps have now been taken to ensure this does not happen in the future. We apologise to those affected and extra support is being offered to them."

Mr Wallace apologised in the Commons on Tuesday for the first error. “It is an unacceptable level of service that has let down the thousands of members of the armed forces and veterans. On behalf of the Ministry of Defence, I apologise.”

The latest debacle is not the first time the government has been accused of endangering Afghan lives. It was revealed last month that documents identifying Afghan workers had been left at the British diplomatic mission in Kabul, something Mr Wallace said was “not good enough”.

After the Taliban swept to power last month, they went on a PR offensive, promising the international community they would respect women’s rights and not take retribution against government workers. However, their actions seem at odds with their words, as they have clamped down on women’s freedoms and hunted down former officials.

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