Jamie Bryson data breach another deep embarrassment for PSNI – The Irish News view

Farcical approach to supposedly sensitive information

Jamie Bryson at Stormont  on Tuesday, after  the DUP's agreement to return to the NI Assembly - after agreeing to a package of measures put forward by the government.
Loyalist Jamie Bryson was given sensitive information about entirely unconnected third parties in Public Interest Immunity documents (Colm Lenaghan)

In the latest Keystone Cops episode to embarrass the organisation, the PSNI has managed to ensure that sensitive information relating to an entirely unconnected person ended up in the hands of the loyalist Jamie Bryson.

The data was contained in error within a national security intelligence report relating to Mr Bryson. Despite the contents of this document apparently being deemed of sufficient weight that it was relied upon by the PSNI and Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris to secure a Public Interest Immunity certificate, at no point in the process does anyone involved appear to have realised it also contained information that had absolutely nothing to do with Mr Bryson.

This has to raise serious questions about not only the gathering and handling of intelligence by the PSNI and MI5, but also the whole Public Interest Immunity certificate process.

These certificates were a familiar component of the footdragging and evasion used to withhold and redact information during inquests into Troubles killings, in particular those linked to collusion between paramilitaries and state forces.

In this instance, the information came into Mr Bryson’s possession following his successful application to the Crown Court to ask a judge to order that the PSNI hand over material linked to a case in which police had already been given permission - in secret - by the court to access his bank account.

Although there were redactions to the document Mr Bryson received, it still contained details about a third party’s financial situation, their national insurance number and a company’s bank account information.

The blunder means that the PSNI is now trying to recover this data from Mr Bryson, a scenario which has heavy elements of farce.

There is a Police Ombudsman investigation into the affair, while Deputy Chief Constable Chris Todd says the PSNI is working with the Information Commissioner.

The blunder means that the PSNI is now trying to recover sensitive data from Jamie Bryson, a scenario heavy with farce... Is it too much to hope for a police service that looks after information, a civil service that serves our interests and an executive that works?

By now, there is presumably a well worn path between PSNI headquarters and the office of the Information Commissioner, given the alarming data breaches that came to light last year.

In a week in which it was disclosed that it routinely spied on ‘troublemaker’ journalists, this latest data breach can only further harm confidence in the PSNI.

There is a wider point, too, about the competency of state institutions. The Covid Inquiry, for example, has reminded us that the upper echelons of the civil service are, to be kind, inept on matters such as keeping minutes, and that the impulse of the executive during a public health emergency was to resort to orange and green bickering.

Is it too much to hope for a police service that can look after sensitive information, a civil service that serves taxpayers’ interests and an executive that works for everyone?