Norfolk and Suffolk constabularies identify breach of personal data in FoI response

Norfolk and Suffolk constabularies said “personal identifiable information” on victims, witnesses and suspects was included in a Freedom of Information (FoI) response due to a “technical issue”.

Aug 15, 2023
By Paul Jacques

The forces admitted a total of 1,230 people had their data breached but said the information was “hidden from anyone opening the files”.

They said “strenuous efforts” have been made to determine if the data released has been accessed by anyone outside of policing. “At this stage we have found nothing to suggest that this is the case,” the constabularies said.

In a joint statement, the two forces said: “Norfolk and Suffolk constabularies have identified an issue relating to a very small percentage of responses to FoI requests for crime statistics, issued between April 2021 and March 2022.

“A technical issue has led to some raw data belonging to the constabularies being included within the files produced in response to the FoI requests in question. The data was hidden from anyone opening the files, but it should not have been included.

“The data impacted was information held on a specific police system and related to crime reports. The data includes personal identifiable information on victims, witnesses, and suspects, as well as descriptions of offences. It related to a range of offences, including domestic incidents, sexual offences, assaults, thefts and hate crime.

“A full and thorough analysis into the data impacted has now been completed and today, we have started the process of contacting those individuals who need to be notified about an impact to their personal data.

“This will be done via letter, phone, and in some cases, face to face depending on what information was impacted and what support is required. We expect this process to be complete by the end of September. We will be notifying a total of 1,230 people whose data has been breached.”

The two forces said people will be provided with all the necessary information including what personal data specific to them has been impacted and details of who they can contact for support. A dedicated specialist team has also been set up to handle any queries about this incident.

The constabularies said the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has been notified and is being kept updated.

T/Assistant Chief Constable Eamonn Bridger of Suffolk Constabulary, who led the investigation on behalf of both forces, said: “We would like to apologise that this incident occurred, and we sincerely regret any concern that it may have caused the people of Norfolk and Suffolk.

“I would like to reassure the public that procedures for handling FoI requests made to Norfolk and Suffolk constabularies are subject to continuous review to ensure that all data under the constabularies’ control is properly protected.”

Stephen Bonner, Deputy Commissioner at the ICO, said: “The potential impact of a breach like this reminds us that data protection is about people. It’s too soon to say what our investigation will find, but this breach – and all breaches – highlights just how important it is to have robust measures in place to protect personal information, especially when that data is so sensitive.

“We are currently investigating this breach and a separate breach reported to us in November 2022.

“In the meantime, we’ll continue to support organisations to get data protection right so that people can feel confident that their information is secure.”

Suffolk police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore said: “There has been a data breach involving some Suffolk Constabulary data – this should not have happened and I apologise that it has.

“I have requested regular updates from the chief constable so I can be assured everything reasonably possible is being done to put matters right.

“I will also be looking at a full review of the constabulary’s information sharing processes to guard against something like this ever happening again.”

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