In the aftermath of a significant data breach, the chief of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Simon Byrne, has disclosed that the sensitive information has been acquired by dissident republicans. This group potentially has the ability to exploit the data for personal vendettas or settling scores.
“We are working round the clock to assess and mitigate this risk,” said Byrne adding that the industrial scale” data leak could be used by the dissident republican paramilitaries to generate “fear and uncertainty”.
According to a BBC report, the data released includes the surname, first initials, rank and the unit they are based in of over 10,000 PSNI employees.
Liam Kelly, the chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI), urged police officers and staffers to exercise “maximum vigilance”.
“We must do all we can to frustrate and prevent attacks on our colleagues and their families. That means varying the routes we take to and from work, changing routines and re-assessing our personal security both on and off duty,” said Kelly.
The leak has incensed those involved with the police and others coming from nationalist backgrounds as the enemies could use the information to come after them and their families.
“For 18 years, I’ve relied on my family to help me protect my identity. I’ve denied myself a social life and gave up sports I loved. I can’t stay in touch with old friends on social media as I need to avoid the footprint. Now, this is all taken away at the click of a button,” one of the nationalists was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
Over 3,00 officers have got in touch with the police federation regarding a potential legal case for damages. Lawyers have estimated that the eventual bill may come to around tens of millions of pounds.
While the recent data leak took place on August 8, the authorities were given a warning when a similar data breach was attempted last month. On July 6, a police-issued laptop and documents identifying 200 officers and staff were stolen from a private vehicle. However, PSNI was only notified about the incident on August 4, with experts criticising the force’s laggard response to the leaks.
The breach comes months after the terrorism threat level in Norther Ireland was raised to “severe” in response to an assassination attempt on a senior police officer by dissenting republicans.