PSNI Faces £750,000 Fine Over Major Data Breach

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is facing a proposed £750,000 fine from the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for a significant data breach last summer. The breach involved the inadvertent release of personal information about 9,483 PSNI officers and staff, which subsequently fell into the hands of dissident republicans and others.

UK Information Commissioner John Edwards, in his provisional findings announced on Thursday, criticized the PSNI for failing to protect the personal data of its entire workforce. Edwards highlighted the severe impact of the breach, noting that affected individuals have experienced heightened threats to their safety, with some forced to relocate or sever ties with family members due to security concerns.

“The sensitivities in Northern Ireland and the unprecedented nature of this breach created a perfect storm of risk and harm,” Edwards stated. He emphasized the avoidable nature of the incident, pointing out that “simple and practical-to-implement policies and procedures” could have prevented the breach and the resulting distress.

The ICO’s investigation revealed numerous failings within the PSNI’s data protection practices. The fine, initially considered to be £5.6 million, was reduced by Edwards to £750,000 to ensure that public funds remain available for essential services. The PSNI has also been issued a preliminary enforcement notice to enhance the security of personal information in future FOI responses.

The PSNI, which claims it cannot afford the proposed fine, has 28 days to make representations before the ICO finalizes its decision. Deputy Chief Constable Chris Todd reported ongoing investigations to track those who obtained the data, with several arrests already made and one person currently being prosecuted.

The data breach’s ramifications have been profound, leading to the resignation of the then Chief Constable Simon Byrne. In response, the PSNI has offered a one-off payment of £500 to each affected officer and staff member for home security enhancements.

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