Afghan interpreters’ details compromised in MOD data breach

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The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has experienced a severe data breach that could put the lives of Afghan interpreters and their families at risk. 

Last month, many Afghan interpreters were left behind after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. Following the withdrawal of UK troops, thousands of people fled the country; this included former Afghan staff, their families, and Afghans at threat from the Taliban. Some of these people were Afghan interpreters who worked for British forces.

However, despite promises about safety, the Afghan Relocations Assistance Policy (ARAP), a team led by the Home Office and MoD, which was charged with facilitating the evacuation operation, has suffered a data breach. The personal details of 250 Afghan interpreters are thought to have been compromised in this breach. If this information falls into the hands of the Taliban, the consequences could be fatal. 

What do we know about the MoD data breach?

The Ministry of Defence has launched an investigation into the data privacy failure. It occurred when over 250 people seeking relocation to the UK were mistakenly copied into an email asking for an update on their situation.

Email addresses have been exposed, and some of the addresses had photographs of the interpreters. It’s not yet clear whether the names of the translators have also been compromised. We don’t’ yet know whether all the interpreters at risk are still in Afghanistan. However, many of those copied in the email are said to be in hiding currently.

An MoD spokeswoman has apologised to “everyone impacted by this breach” and said that the MOD is “working hard to ensure it does not happen again”. However, this is likely to be little comfort to the interpreters and their families.

Who has been affected by the Afghan interpreter breach?

Those affected by the breach have been informed. We understand that they are also being offered help to manage any potential risks. However, that they have been put in this position in the first place is a serious failure. 

The Former defence minister Johnny Mercer tweeted that he believed the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office had been “criminally negligent” in the way it had carried out its duty to the Afghan translators. Lib Dem defence spokesman Jamie Stone said it was “shocking and truly a betrayal”. 

The Telegraph reports John Healey, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, as saying: “We told these Afghans interpreters we would keep them safe, instead this breach has needlessly put lives at risk. And speaking to Sky News, Charlie Herbert, a former British Army major general and NATO adviser to the Afghan interior ministry, said, “The staggering incompetence of this is almost inconceivable.”

The new Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has ordered an investigation into the “unacceptable breach”. 

Holding the MOD to account

Speaking about this shocking data privacy failure, Kingsley Hayes, head of data breach at Keller Lenkner UK, said: 

“This is a staggering data protection failure by the Ministry of Defence. While the immediate priority must be to secure the safety of those put at risk by its haphazard email processes, those responsible must ultimately be held to account.

“This is not the first data breach experienced by the MOD this year. Only a few months ago a member of the public discovered sensitive documents containing details about HMS Defender and the British military at a bus stop in Kent. Rather than stepping up its data security practices after this breach, the MOD has allowed a further, and I would argue, far more serious, violation to occur. Lives have been put at risk, and this is simply unforgivable.”

Keller Lenkner UK is launching a group action to help the Afghan interpreters impacted by the data breach hold those responsible to account. Contact us in confidence to discuss your case. 


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