The wife of a serving Northern Ireland police officer has told Sky News they are living in fear after a huge data breach compromised his details.
She said she and her husband already both check under their cars every morning “in case of any suspicious devices” and varied their routes to work.
In an interview with Sky’s senior Ireland correspondent David Blevins, the woman said she found out Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had inadvertently published the information online in a text message from her husband on Tuesday afternoon.
The UK Information Commissioner’s office said on Tuesday confirmed it was investigating the breach while “working with the PSNI to establish the level of risk and mitigations”.
Read more: Why the Northern Ireland police data breach is so serious
“It’s just total disbelief to be honest that something like this can happen,” the officer’s wife said.
“I was so shocked at what I was hearing and reading and quite frankly really, really angry that this has been allowed to happen.
“And I think PSNI is entirely responsible and somebody needs to be held to account for what’s happened here.
“Ultimately, in my opinion they have failed in their duty of care in relation to keeping their employees safe.
“It would be bad enough if it was a small amount of people but given the fact it’s the entire workforce of every officer and every member of police staff it’s just totally unacceptable.”
Image: PSNI officers have been targeted by paramilitary groups The breach, published online for up to three hours in response to a Freedom of Information request, involved the surname, initials, the rank or grade, the work location and departments of all PSNI staff, but did not involve the officers’ and civilians’ private addresses.
Data breach plays into hands of those who deem officers of the crown legitimate targets
Senior Ireland correspondent
It would be difficult to exaggerate the scale of what the Police Federation is calling a “monumental” data breach.
Northern Ireland is the one part of the UK where the terror threat level has been raised from substantial to severe, meaning attacks are highly likely.
That threat comes from dissident Irish republicans, the self-styled New IRA in particular, a conglomerate of breakaway factions still pursuing Irish unity by violent means.
The release of the names and ranks of an estimated 10,000 serving police officers and civilian staff plays right into the hands of those who deem officers of the crown legitimate targets.
Earlier this year, the New IRA claimed responsibility for a gun attack on Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell in Omagh – he was shot and seriously injured.
Police officers I’ve spoken to say they’re required to implement rigorous data protection protocols and are furious their own data has been breached.
Chief Constable Simon Byrne is under pressure to cut short his holiday and return to Northern Ireland.
Given that the security of his officers and their families should be his top priority, he would be wise to do so.
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Speaking under the condition of anonymity, the officer’s wife said they do not talk about what her husband does for a living outside the family or their immediate circle of trust – and they will now have change the way they live even further.
“We will have to be extra vigilant going forward,” she said.
“Although our personal addresses haven’t been included in this breach, we already have to be careful about having that connection with the PSNI and because of that information now being in the public domain we have no control over who knows.
“We also have two young children to protect and there are still people out there who deem police officers and their families as legitimate targets so it just adds that further element of fear to our daily life.”
PSNI officers face a unique terror threat within the UK and have been targeted by republican paramilitaries in recent years. In March the terror threat level in Northern Ireland was raised to severe.
When asked: “So you’re living in fear?” she replied: “Effectively, yes we are.”
A spokesperson for the UK Commissioner’s office said: “We recognise the potential impact on the people and families affected by this breach, and we expect appropriate action to be taken by the Police Service of Northern Ireland as a matter of urgency.
“The incident demonstrates just how important it is to have robust measures in place to protect personal information, especially in a sensitive environment.
“The ICO works to support organisations to get this right so people can feel confident that their information is secure, and harms can be prevented.