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Police send Reg hack CRB check database

Massive security breach prompts investigation

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Exclusive Police face accusations of incompetence after accidentally emailing a file detailing the results of thousands of criminal records checks to a Register journalist.

The author of the email at Gwent Police is now facing a gross misconduct investigation and potential sacking over the incident, which came to light this week.

The file — a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet which was not encrypted or password protected — contained the full names and dates of birth of 10,006 people in jobs or applying for jobs where a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) disclosure is required.

It detailed the results of the checks going back to 2001 and so identified 863 people as having been in trouble with police. In many cases it recorded their occupations, including dozens of taxi drivers, school and hospital workers.

Personal details and whether a CRB disclosure was made on foster carers, IT technicians and pest controllers was also included in the spreadsheet.

The Register has now deleted the file in cooperation with Gwent Police’s professional standards officers, who travelled to our London offices two days after being contacted.

Investigators are blaming human error for the data breach, rather than the system design. It occurred when the author of the email — a member of the force’s CID data management unit — used the autocomplete function in Novell’s email software to include the journalist’s address along with those of five Gwent Police officials in the “CC” field of the message.

The Register address had been automatically saved by the system after it was used to submit two unrelated Freedom of Information requests last year.

IT workers were immediately called in by chief constable Mick Giannasi to tighten system security so similar incidents cannot occur in the future. Gwent Police has now reported the breach to the Information Commissioner, as required under the Data Protection Act, and to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Meanwhile the individuals whose CRB results were leaked are being contacted to reassure them the sensitive information will not be published.

The incident will nevertheless embarrass ministers, who have mostly avoided serious data losses since a spate in 2007 prompted a review of information security across Whitehall.

Although police chief constables are responsible for their own data protection standards, the fact that some of the most sensitive information officialdom holds can be accidentally sent out as an unprotected spreadsheet will renew criticism of government data gathering and handling efforts.

The Home Office, responsible for policing and the CRB system, is not allowed to respond to press questions during the election campaign because of impartiality rules.

Gwent Police asked The Register to consider not publishing a story about its serious data breach saying it would undermine public confidence in the force, but we declined.

Gail Foley, Gwent Police’s “senior manager of public confidence”, said the force was very sorry over the breach and that its investigation continued. ®

Bootnote

Gwent Police has a help line on 01495 745430 for anyone with concerns.

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