Defence Secretary orders investigation over Afghan interpreter data breach

20 September 2021, 22:16 | Updated: 21 September 2021, 01:04

Ben Wallace has launched the investigation.
Ben Wallace has launched the investigation. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has ordered an investigation over a data breach of hundreds of Afghan interpreters.

It comes after over 250 people hoping to be relocated in the UK were copied into a Ministry of Defence (MoD) email requesting updates for their situation, it has emerged.

An MoD spokesperson, said: "An investigation has been launched into a data breach of information from the Afghan Relocations Assistance Policy team.  

"We apologise to everyone impacted by this breach and are working hard to ensure it does not happen again.

"The Ministry of Defence takes its information and data handling responsibilities very seriously."

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All of those impacted have been contacted and advice has been given for potential risks posed by the breach, it is understood.

However, it is unknown if they were in the UK or left behind in Afghanistan after evacuations came to an end at the end of August.

Some are said to be in hiding from the Taliban after the militants took control of the battle-torn country last month, according to reports.

The MoD said it would take all necessary steps under UK GDPR rules.

Responding to the breach, shadow defence secretary John Healey said: "We told these Afghans interpreters we would keep them safe, instead this breach has needlessly put lives at risk.

"The priority now is to urgently step up efforts to get these Afghans safely to the UK.

"This is the second major data breach from the MoD this year, after sensitive documents were discovered at a bus stop in Kent in June.

"Clearly, the Defence Secretary needs to get his house in order."

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Former defence minister Johnny Mercer tweeted that the error was likely to mean Afghan translators would be "moving house again tonight".

He said the treatment of Afghan interpreters had been "deeply shameful" over recent months.

"In July, myself along with many others in defence asked the Defence Secretary and the Home Secretary to sort out the Arap programme," he told PA news agency.

"They wrote a churlish letter back saying we were reacting to 'significant misreporting' and our concerns were 'simply not true'.

"I told them they would regret their childish approach to a genuine effort to protect those who had served in harms way on behalf of our nation.

"Their hubris will cost lives; this latest episode will only accelerate that. Deeply shameful."