Northern Ireland news

Business owner 'traumatised' by PSNI data breach

The data breach involved in a pen drive left in a device

A business owner, whose private data was among thousands of pages of information handed to suspected loyalists, has said he feels "traumatised" by the breach.

The information was contained on a pen drive that appears to have been accidentally left in the back of a device returned to loyalists under investigation by police.

The device had previously been removed from a person or persons who were under investigation by the Paramilitary Crime Task Force.

The pen drive, containing numerous files - some encrypted, but others easily accessible - included details of internet traffic of members of the public along with emails, server addresses and passwords.

One Northern Ireland business owner whose details were included in the data breach told The Irish News he wants answers as to how and why information he believed to be secure was obtained.

He said in normal circumstances he would "pick up the phone and ring 999" but in this case it appeared police themselves had held the information.

"I have had to call staff away from other work so we can secure and change all our passwords," he said.

"We're a small local company. This kind of disruption is financially costly but emotionally I feel like I've been hit by a train. I want answers as to why this data was being gathered and for what purpose.

"That our private information was accessed at all is devastating enough. To find out it was then handed to suspected criminals is just beyond comprehension."

Some of those affected by the data breach, thought to be one of the most serious in the north's history, are now preparing to take court action against the PSNI.

Law firm 'inundated' with calls from people who fear their details may be in the hands of loyalist paramilitaries

Human rights lawyer Niall Murphy, a partner with of KRW Law, said he would be preparing pre-action for a number of clients.

"We have been inundated with instructions from people who fear that their details may have been leaked to loyalist paramilitaries," Mr Murphy said.

"These range from a variety of concerned sources, including individuals who have pursued previous litigation in respect of their personal details having been previously disclosed to loyalist paramilitaries arising from information recovered from Stoneyford Orange Hall and also the Highfield estate in Belfast.

"We have also received instructions from corporate entities concerned that their private business communications have been unlawfully accessed by PSNI.

"It should be stressed that none of these individuals or entities have been the subject of a lawful search warrant duly executed exercised in accordance with the legal safeguards.

"We are preparing pre-action correspondence in respect of these matters and will be making complaints to the Police Ombudsman and to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

"We expect that the PSNI will be contacting people immediately to advise them as to the risk to their personal security, if their details have been disclosed to loyalist paramilitaries, as a matter of course."

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