Dissident republicans claim to be in possession of leaked data, says Northern Ireland Police head

Dissident republicans claim to be in possession of leaked data, says Northern Ireland Police head

Simon Byrne ‘deeply sorry’ about ‘industrial scale breach of data

By Burak Bir

LONDON (AA) - Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constable said Thursday that authorities are aware that "dissident republicans" claim to be in possession of information circulating on WhatsApp.

Simon Byrne said after an emergency meeting of the Policing Board that he is "deeply sorry" about an "industrial scale breach of data."

His remarks came after PSNI apologized about the data breach which made available information of officers online for some time.

The breach, a result of "human error," occurred when the PSNI responded to a Freedom of Information request, which mistakenly released a spreadsheet that included surnames, initials, ranks or grades, location and the departments of all current PSNI officers and civilian staff members.

"We are now aware that dissident republicans claim to be in possession of some of this information circulating on WhatsApp," he noted.

But he added that this is "a claim" and they had not yet been able to verify it.

An "early worst-case scenario that we have been dealing with is that third parties would attempt to get this data, to intimidate, corrupt, or indeed cause harm to our officers and staff," noted Byrne.

It is, however, being considered whether some officers need to be moved from their usual places of work.

Byrne also said he would not resign amid the crisis.

Following the incident, Liam Kelly, chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI), described the breach as "monumental."

- Raises concern

The incident has raised concern as the current threat level to Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland Related Terrorism is "severe," meaning "an attack is highly likely," according to the official chart.

Last year, the threat level was lowered from "severe" to "substantial" for the first time in 12 years, but raised again to severe in March.

"In recent months, we have seen an increase in levels of activity relating to Northern Ireland Related Terrorism, which has targeted police officers serving their communities and also put at risk the lives of children and other members of the public,” Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said earlier in a statement.

On Tuesday, he expressed concern about the PSNI officer breach.

A New Year’s message from the Irish dissident group, New IRA, caused concerns as it pledged to "use all means at its disposal" to end British rule in Ireland.

"As we enter 2023, Ireland remains under occupation and our national sovereignty is denied by a foreign government," according to the Jan. 2 message from the New IRA, a splinter group formed after the disarmament of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

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