Dissident republicans claim to be in possession of leaked PSNI information following an "extremely serious" data breach, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne said today, Thursday, August 10.

Byrne, speaking to the press on Thursday after a meeting with the Northern Ireland Policing Board, said the key priority has to be "remaining alert to the safety and welfare of both officers and staff as we deal with this unprecedented incident."

He added: "I am deeply sorry about what has happened when we have seen an industrial scale breach of data that has gone into the public domain."

He continued: "An early worst-case scenario that we have been dealing with is that third parties would attempt to get this data to intimidate, corrupt, or indeed cause harm to our officers and staff.

"We are now aware that dissident republicans claim to be in possession of some of this information circulating on WhatsApp, and as we speak, we are advising officers and staff about how to deal with that and any further risk that they face."

Answering a question from a reporter, Byrne clarified: "This is a claim. We haven't yet been able to verify what the substance is behind that claim or see any of the information that dissident republicans assert that they have.

"But as you can imagine, we keeping that under review."

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is investigating after information about its current employees was posted online on Tuesday, August 8.

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd, Senior Information Risk Owner, said that following a routine Freedom of Information (FoI) request, data contained within a spreadsheet was published on a legitimate FoI website on Tuesday.

This included the surname, initials, rank/grade, role, and location of all serving officers and staff.  

This data was available to view on the website for a period of up to three hours before it was removed.

The PSNI later confirmed on Wednesday that another data breach took place on July 6 when a spreadsheet containing the names of roughly 200 officers and staff was stolen from a private vehicle in Newtownabbey near Belfast. A police issue laptop and radio are also thought to have been stolen during the theft. 

During Thursday's briefing, Byrne added that no police officers have been moved from their homes as a result of the breach. 

Byrne said the PSNI has established a critical incident command structure to determine real-time concerns about threats and risks to PSNI officers. 

"We've had over 500 referrals to that service, which is real-time triaging the level of risk that we perceive officers to be facing and then we're offering them that advice," he said.

"We have not yet redeployed anybody, for example, from their home.

"We're taking steps this afternoon to reassess in some cases, which I won't go into for operational reasons, whether we need to redeploy some specialist officers away from the usual place of work to a new location." 

Byrne said he recognized "legitimate concerns" for members of the force following the breach, adding that the breach has raised questions about trust. 

"We have to accept for some people there is a breach of trust which is exploding out at the moment."

Byrne acknowledged that the PSNI may face financial penalties for the data breach, stating that a regulator may hand down a fine. He also said individual officers may decide to take legal action over the breach of their personal data but added that it is too early to speculate. 

Byrne also said he would not be stepping down over the issue. 

"In terms of my own position, firstly in the short term, my priority is about the wellbeing of officers and staff as we navigate our way through this crisis.

"But equally I know it's a question that people will be asking, I don't think leadership is about walking away, it's facing up to your responsibilities and I think the organization needs consistency and calm heads at the moment." 

The PSNI has apologized to staff and officers for the breach and has attributed the initial breach to human error.