After a data breach with the police in Northern Ireland: the fear is spreading

After a data breach with the police in Northern Ireland: the fear is spreading

Fear is back in Northern Ireland. Over the weekend, posters appeared in public places in the capital, Belfast, listing the names, functions and departments of police officers. This information on 10,000 police officers had been visible on the internet due to mistakes made by the Police Authority of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

The intimidation underscores the “very serious threat” to police officers from paramilitaries that are still active, explained Gerry Kelly of the Republican-Catholic Sinn Féin party.

After the catastrophic data breach, the Protestant Unionist politician Ian Paisley (DUP) called for a special session of the British House of Commons because of the “security threat of national importance”.

Own authority puts names on the Internet

Police Commissioner Simon Byrne’s announcement last week left many Northern Irish speechless: the agency was not the victim of a cyber attack by foreign powers.

Rather, the PSNI’s own data department had briefly posted a list of all employees with their location and office on the Internet. This included those three dozen police officers who work closely with the domestic intelligence agency MI5, as well as a small group of people whose location was simply marked “secret”.

The fact that the more than 10,000 people affected and their friends and relatives are now afraid has to do with the special role of the security authorities in Northern Ireland. The PSNI emerged from the former Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in 2001. The police force had become the target of terrorist attacks by the Catholic IRA and radical Protestants, so-called Loyalists, during the 30-year civil war. More than 300 officers lost their lives on duty.

25 years after the Omagh bombing

The nagging questions about the competence of the reformed police force come in the context of a sad anniversary: ​​Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of the bombing in the market town of Omagh (Tyrone County).

Four months after the Good Friday Peace Agreement was signed, on August 15, 1998, renegade Republicans from the Real IRA splinter group murdered 29 people there, including a woman pregnant with twins, 12 children and teenagers, with a massive car bomb.

For us it feels like it was yesterday.

Stanley McCombewho lost his wife in the 1998 attack

The town is still suffering from the consequences today. “Our city has been torn apart,” Michael Gallagher said at a celebration in Omagh’s memorial garden on Sunday. The chairman of the local initiative for those affected lost his 21-year-old son Aidan that Saturday. Since then, Gallagher and his comrades-in-arms have been fighting in court for a comprehensive investigation of the crime, for which no one has been held criminally responsible to this day.

“It feels like yesterday to us,” Stanley McCombe, who is grieving for his wife Ann, told the BBC. On Tuesday, relatives of the victims wanted to lay flowers in front of the glass obelisk on Market Street, where the bomb ripped apart a red Vauxhall Cavalier 25 years ago.

Now the PSNI has to worry even more about the safety of its own employees. They are already exposed to a considerable threat from paramilitaries. In the spring of 2021, for example, a bomb was discovered under the car of a young policewoman who wanted to take her then three-year-old daughter to kindergarten.

Earlier this year, gunmen gunned down a senior PSNI detective on the sidelines of a football practice session in front of his son and other children. The critically injured person barely survived.

After the data breach, a wave of lawsuits rolled towards the authority. Hundreds of PSNI members have signaled to the local police union that they want to take action against their employer. In addition, the data protection authority is likely to impose a fine of millions.


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