The largest police force in the UK, the London Metropolitan Police (also known as the London Met), has fallen victim to a substantial data breach. Approximately 47,000 members of the police staff have been informed about the potential compromise of their personal data. This includes details such as photos, names, and ranks. The breach occurred when criminals targeted the IT systems of a contractor responsible for producing staff identification cards.
While this breach has raised concerns about the security of sensitive information, it is important to note that details like identification numbers and clearance levels might have been exposed as well. However, it has been confirmed that the breached data did not include home addresses of the affected Met police personnel. There are fears that organised crime groups or even terrorist entities could be responsible for this breach of security and personal data.
Furthermore, the breach has amplified security apprehensions for London Met police officers from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. Former London Met Police Chief Superintendent Dal Babu explained that individuals with less common names might face a heightened risk. Criminal networks could potentially locate and target them more easily online, compared to those with common names. This concern is particularly relevant for officers in specialised roles like counter-terrorism or undercover operations.
Reacting to this situation, former Met commander John O’Connor expressed outrage, highlighting concerns about the adequacy of the cyber security measures put in place by the contracted IT security company, given the highly sensitive nature of the information at stake.
This incident presents a significant challenge to the UK Home Office, and it is likely that the government will be compelled to swiftly review and bolster security protocols. This step is necessary to ensure that the personal data of security service personnel is safeguarded with the utmost levels of privacy and data security. Both the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and The National Crime Agency have initiated investigations.
This follows the data breach of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) where, in response to a Freedom of Information request, the PSNI mistakenly divulged information on every police officer and member of police staff. Over in England, Norfolk and Suffolk Police also recently announced it had mistakenly released information about more than 1,200 people, including victims and witnesses of crime, also following an FOI request. Last week, South Yorkshire Police referred itself to the information commissioner after “a significant and unexplained reduction” in data such as bodycam footage stored on its systems, a loss which it said could affect some 69 cases.
These incidents underscore the urgency of maintaining robust data protection measures and raising awareness about potential risks, especially within law enforcement agencies. It also requires Data Controllers to ensure that they have processes in place to comply with the requirements of GDPR (Article 28) when it comes to appointing Data Processors.