An investigation has been opened into a data breach involving the email addresses of dozens of Afghan interpreters who worked for British troops.
The Ministry of Defence has been accused of “putting lives at risk” after more than 250 Afghans who had applied for sanctuary in the UK, many of whom are in hiding fearing for their lives, were mistakenly copied into an email.
All the email addresses are visible to those who have been sent it from the MoD. The email, seen by The Times, was asking those seeking relocation for weekly updates on their situation, saying that they would not be telephoned because of concerns that it could put them at risk. Some of the email addresses had photographs attached.
Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, described the breach as unacceptable. Officials at the MoD were said to be “distraught by the mistake”, which was blamed on human error. One veteran who has been helping Afghan interpreters said he was “speechless with anger that someone in the MoD has put an all-informed email out to several hundred Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy [Arap] personnel, potentially compromising every single person on the list”. He said that they were “putting people’s lives at risks with this kind of ineptitude”.
An MoD spokeswoman said: “An investigation has been launched into a data breach of information from the Arap team. We apologise to everyone impacted by this breach and are working hard to ensure it does not happen again.”
The email, sent on Monday, said that the UK was “doing everything it can to relocate you as safely as possible”, adding: “We understand staying in contact with us may be extremely difficult and in some circumstances put you at risk, this is why we will not telephone you for the time being.”
The MoD has contacted those individuals affected by the breach and has offered advice on how to manage the potential risks.
Johnny Mercer, the Conservative MP and former minister and British Army officer, said that the data breach was a “terrible” mistake and “it makes people’s lives very difficult.”
He told Today on BBC Radio 4 that administrative mistakes did happen. However, he added that the reason this one occurred was that “this Afghan relocation programme has been behind the curve the entire time”.
He said: “The reality is that we have left the vast majority of our interpreters behind and this is going to have a profound impact on the people who are still left in the country.”
Yesterday it emerged that nearly 8,000 Afghans had applied to come to the UK since British troops withdrew from the country but less than 1 per cent have been told that they are eligible after completing Home Office security checks.
James Heappey, the minister for the armed forces, said 7,900 had submitted applications to the relocation scheme since August 28, the day the UK stopped evacuating people from Kabul. Of those, 900 “appeared” eligible from the Ministry of Defence’s perspective but only 50 had completed Home Office security checks and were now being advised on how to proceed. The figures point to a significant backlog in the Home Office.
The MoD said: “The generosity of the Arap scheme means anyone can apply, even if they are not eligible.”