A government data breach, in which the addresses of more than 1,000 people named on the 2020 New Year’s honours list were published online, has been condemned as “a complete disaster”.
It emerged on Saturday that the home and work addresses of celebrities, high profile politicians, senior government officials, and many other recipients, has been published “in error” on the government’s own website.
MP Iain Duncan Smith, who was one of the recipients named on the list, branded the error “a complete disaster”.
The Conservative politician told The Sunday Times: “Ministers need to be asking some very serious questions of those involved about how this was allowed to happen and why no final checks were carried out before the document was published.
“Everybody knows virtually everything about me. It’s much more concerning for private citizens, like those who have been involved in policing or counter-terrorism or other such sensitive cases, to have their addresses published.”
The incident has already been referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), and a spokesperson for the government has apologised for the issue.
The ICO said it was “making enquiries”.
Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, is leading calls for an inquiry into how the huge volume of data was accidentally released into the public domain.
He told BBC Breakfast: “It is a serious, and indeed extraordinary breach, because this is a well-established process which has gone on in pretty much the same way for years so I think an urgent investigation in certainly needed.
“It’s likely to be human error, as had been suggested, but we need to know how well staff were trained about the importance of maintaining security and if they were they briefed on the potential consequences if this information was released.
“I was responsible for this area years back and the team were very good and effective at that time, but there are significant consequences here and we need to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.”
Despite emphasising the seriousness of the breach, Lord Kerslake said it would be “premature” for Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, to resign, instead explaining a need to establish a “better understanding” of what had happened.
“One of the reasons this is so important is we rely on a highly well-managed process for honours, it’s a sensitive process, so anything that suggests that the system isn’t secure is a real concern.
“There are of course issues for the individual also involved, and it’s not just the famous people but also those in the police and security services, ands of course there are issues for the government because the could be liable for quite significant penalties through the information commissioner.”
Amongst the addresses were those of Elton John, cricketer Ben Stokes, the former director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders, and TV chef Nadiya Hussain.
On Saturday, a spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said the information had been removed as soon as possible, adding: “we apologise to all those affected and are looking into how this happened.”