The Cabinet Office has been accused of putting lives at risk after it accidentally published the home addresses of more than 1,000 celebrities, politicians, police, military and intelligence officials named in the new year honours list.
Iain Duncan Smith, who was knighted, described the mistake as “a complete disaster” and said ministers needed to ask “very serious questions” about how it had happened.
The former head of the civil service, Lord Kerslake, called for an “urgent” inquiry and warned the government could now face legal action from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and anyone whose address was posted online.
Richard Walton, the former head of counterterrorism at Scotland Yard, said the error could endanger honoured officials working in “sensitive” roles for the police and intelligence services.
“The release of the private addresses of these individuals into the public domain will mean that a threat and risk assessment will need to be undertaken, resulting in some having new private security measures introduced into their homes,” Mr Walton told The Sunday Times.
Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative Party leader, told the newspaper the security implications were “concerning”. Sir Iain said: “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.”
The paper also quoted an unnamed senior counterterrorism official calling for the resignation of Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill – who also holds a role as Boris Johnson’s national security adviser.
Lord Kerslake 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.”
Warning of legal action, he also said: “Even if individuals don’t take it forward, the information commissioner has to investigate it and we know that in other instances where there’s been significant data breaches the potential fines are very large indeed.”
The ICO said it is now investigating after details relating to the vast majority of the 1,097 recipients – including Sir Elton John, cricket star Ben Stokes and Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain – could be viewed online from 11pm on Friday.
The details were removed around an hour after the accidental disclosure, with only six people honoured for services to defence left off the list, according to the BBC.
The Cabinet Office apologised and said it was contacting those affected and had referred itself to the regulator.
The introduction of General Data Protection Regulation rules in 2018 increased the penalties regulators such as the ICO are able to introduce.
Silkie Carlo, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “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.”
Jon Trickett, shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said the incident showed “incompetence that is unacceptable”.
Others were more forgiving. Hackney councillor and charity pioneer Mete Coban, who was given an MBE for services to young people, said: “If those responsible have apologised and it is a genuine error, then there is not much more that can be done.
“I understand why others are concerned but most of my details are online because of the council work anyway. It is not ideal but what is done is done.”
World taekwondo champion Jade Jones, who was given an OBE, told the BBC: “Obviously mistakes can be made and I know it is dangerous people’s addresses getting out but, you know, I’m sure they didn’t do it on purpose.”
She added: “It is scary but it’s a good job I do taekwondo.”
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