Northern Ireland news

Man denied entry to US after PSNI data breach

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson
Staff reporter

THE Police Ombudsman has revealed that a man was refused travel to the US after a PSNI data breach.

The ombudsman has made a number of recommendations after the force shared the personal information of 152 people with external law enforcement agencies.

Concerns have been raised after the PSNI admitted sharing the information "in a manner that did not comply with data protection".

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson revealed that sensitive information relating to four members of one family, three brothers and their mother, had been "inappropriately shared by police with the United States Department of Homeland Security and an official in the US Consulate in Belfast".

Her office confirmed the information had not been requested by US authorities and included photographs and criminal records of the brothers as well as details about their mother.

The ombudsman said one of the brothers had been subject to bail conditions which were varied by a judge to allow him to travel to the US for a family holiday.

"However, on the day before he was due to travel, a police officer in the E&IMAU (the PSNI’s Extradition and International Mutual Assistance Unit) sent details about him, his two brothers and his mother to US authorities," she said.

The man was refused travel and his bail was reinstated.

It has also emerged that the man had planned to travel to Spain "and an international alert was placed on his record so that he and anyone accompanying him would be stopped entering the country".

"A police officer also stated in an email that he may be able to have the man’s passport cancelled," the ombudsman's office said.

The ombudsman investigated potential breaches of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which relates to the right to respect for private and family life.

Potential offences were also considered in relation to the Computer Misuse Act and the Data Protection Act.

No evidence of criminality was found.

Ms Anderson said the failings identified "were organisational rather than matters of individual culpability by police officers".

Among recommendations made were that the "PSNI should ensure that the sharing of information with foreign agencies is done in a lawful manner and that it should seek advice from the Information Commissioner’s Office".

She also recommended that the PSNI should review its guidance and policies and ensure that staff within the E&IMAU "were appropriately trained on relevant data protection legislation and the obligations on public authorities".

Solicitor Owen Beattie of KRW Law represents several people impacted by the data breach.

"What is not clear is how this happened or the nature of the information that has been leaked," he said.

Mr Beattie said his clients are aggrieved and that he has been instructed to issue legal proceedings against the chief constable "for this data breach and to secure answers as to what has occurred here”.

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