Irish Police to Pay Nearly $1M for Disclosing Citizens with Depression

The British supervisory authority has announced a fine of more than $950,000 for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) due to a data leak, which has been described as the “largest leak in the history of the British police.” In August, data from 10,000 officers was compromised, including surnames, initials, positions, roles, and places of work. The Commissioner’s Office (ICO) conducted an investigation and received numerous stories detailing the impact of the leak on individuals’ lives, ranging from disruptions to daily routines to fears for personal safety.

Many young officers who spoke anonymously about the incident expressed a desire to relocate but lacked the financial means to do so. Over 50 cases of work absences were attributed to stress stemming from the data leak, with mental health issues becoming increasingly prevalent among PSNI employees. The situation was further complicated when republican dissidents claimed to have access to some of the leaked information, prompting consideration of reassigning certain police officers.

While large fines can serve as a deterrent, the ICO acknowledges that they may not always be the most effective punishment for state organizations. Instead, the ICO advocates for increased collaboration with the regulator and investments in data protection. In the private sector, a similar breach would have resulted in a fine of approximately $7 million, indicating that PSNI received a significant discount.

In addition to the fine, the ICO has issued a directive for PSNI to enhance security measures when responding to Freedom of Information requests. It is crucial to review and revise information disclosure protocols to safeguard personal data. According to the ICO, implementing simple and readily applicable policies and procedures could have helped prevent the incident.

PSNI officials have expressed regret over the news of the fine, citing financial challenges within the service, and have pledged to engage with the ICO to discuss potential reductions to the penalty. PSNI has offered compensation of $630 to each affected officer, with 90% of employees agreeing to the settlement. The service has also provided officers and their families with crime prevention recommendations.

Efforts are underway to identify individuals involved in criminal activities related to the data leak, and PSNI is conducting training sessions for officers and staff to prevent future incidents. The total cost of the incident, including the ICO fine, is estimated to range from $30 million to $47 million. PSNI has already implemented 14 of the 37 recommendations outlined in a report aimed at improving organizational practices, with plans to address the remaining suggestions.

/Reports, release notes, official announcements.