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UK apologises for email error revealing details of more than 250 Afghan interpreters

UK apologises for email error revealing details of more than 250 Afghan interpreters

FILE PHOTO: A Taliban security member holding a rifle ensures order in front of Azizi Bank in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 4, 2021. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

LONDON: Britain's defence minister apologised and suspended one official on Tuesday (Sep 21) after his department accidentally revealed the email addresses of more than 250 Afghan interpreters seeking to move to the UK.

The error came as the UK acknowledged it had left behind hundreds of Afghans eligible for relocation in the rushed evacuation following the Taliban takeover.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said an email from Britain's Afghan Relocations Assistance Policy - the scheme used to help interpreters and others who had worked for Britain - had compromised more than 250 recipients by copying, rather than blind-copying their email addresses.

Vulnerable recipients who are potentially eligible for relocation following the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan had been warned as soon as the blunder was spotted and given advice on what to do, he said.

"It is an unacceptable level of service ... and on behalf of the ministry defence I apologise," Wallace told MPs.

"To say I was angered by this was an understatement and I immediately directed investigations take place," he added.

"One individual has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation and processes for data handling and correspondence processing have already been changed."

Many of the email addresses also contained photographs.

"I apologise to those Afghans affected by this data breach and with whom we are now working ... to provide security advice," Wallace told parliament.

"CRIMINALLY NEGLIGENT"

Wallace insisted his department would cooperate with a probe by Britain's data regulator, while pledging to continue processing evacuations.

"I offer the reassurances that the scheme will continue to operate, bring people back to the United Kingdom, however many are eligible, for however long it takes," he said.

But the mistake has angered some members of the ruling party who said the breach had put the lives of those on the list at risk because the Taliban might be able to identify them and punish them for helping Western forces.

Conservative MP and former veterans minister Johnny Mercer called the data breach a "criminally negligent performance".

Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chair of parliament's defence committee, urged Wallace to step up the efforts and even "to find clandestine means of leading these people to safety" if necessary.

Wallace said those concerned had been advised to change their email address, and intelligence agencies were assessing risks to their safety.

The email error is the latest of several such mistakes by the defence ministry, both in Britain and overseas.

In August, The Times newspaper reported that it had found contact details of staff and job applicants left behind at the British embassy compound in Kabul, potentially endangering them.

Wallace told lawmakers his department has received more than 68,000 application enquiries to the UK's Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, set up to help interpreters and others.

Britain has airlifted more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan since the Taliban captured Kabul, both UK nationals and Afghan allies.

Source: AGENCIES/gs

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