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Police in Northern Ireland have arrested a man in the wake of the accidental data leak last week that identified the force’s entire 10,000 officers and staff.
The 39-year-old was being questioned by detectives after being detained on suspicion of collection of information likely to be useful to terrorists, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said. He was detained after a search in Lurgan, south-west of Belfast, on Wednesday.
The police accidentally posted the database — identifying all its serving officers and staff, including police working with UK intelligence agency MI5 — on the internet last week in response to a freedom of information request.
Chief Constable Simon Byrne confirmed this week that dissident republican groups, which have targeted security forces in the past and have staged sporadic attacks since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement ended the three decades-long Troubles, have already gained access to the data.
The arrest was the first in connection with the leak which has caused anxiety among many officers. Northern Ireland’s conflict involved republican paramilitaries fighting to reunite Ireland, loyalist gunmen determined to keep the region in the UK; British security forces and police remain a target for small, dissident republican groups.
Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Hill said the search and arrest were “just one piece of a large-scale operation” as PSNI top brass worked “tirelessly to address the risk posed to officers and staff” after the leak.
“We will continue in our efforts to disrupt criminal activity associated with this freedom of information data breach and to keep communities, and our officers and staff who serve them, safe,” Hill said.
Earlier this week, printed extracts from the data leak, with some information blocked out, were posted on a wall in Belfast, apparently confirming that dissident republican groups had obtained the information.
The data dump on Tuesday last week was compounded when police admitted that a smaller database had also been lost when a private car, containing a police laptop and radio, was stolen more than a month ago.
Even though the Troubles have been over for a quarter of a century, police in Northern Ireland still routinely check under their cars for bombs and many do not tell even family and friends what they do for a living.
This week marked the 25th anniversary of a car bomb in the town of Omagh that killed 29, four months after the Good Friday Agreement and was the single deadliest terror attack in Northern Ireland.
Some serving officers have told local media they plan to move or quit the force after the data leak put them at heightened risk. Byrne says none have yet done so and no officers have so far been rehoused in response to the leak.