Confidential details of Syrian refugees accidently released to councillors

Aberdeenshire Council has welcomed refugees to the area.
Aberdeenshire Council has welcomed refugees to the area.

Confidential details about Syrian refugees who fled persecution in their war-torn homeland were accidentally released to north-east politicians.

Inverurie councillor Richard Cowling said the incident could have threatened the lives of vulnerable families.

But Aberdeenshire Council lawyers said no “breach” occurred as the information was not more widely distributed.

The “unsettling document” which listed the addresses of refugees living in the Inverurie area was emailed to councillors. No names were released to the elected officials.

Aberdeenshire Council has committed to hosting 50 families of Syrian refugees – who describe themselves as “New Scots – in the area.

The revelation came during a debate about the councillors’ code of conduct for using IT equipment.

Concerns have been raised about the financial impact of breaches – which attract fines of up to £500,000 in the most serious cases.

Mr Cowling said: “Anyone wanting to do them harm would have known where they lived. I think that was a serious breach.

“There were vulnerable people’s addresses given out. It was a very unsettling document, that those people’s details were freely available.”

Mr Cowling said the information could have been hacked via email, or the file “pulled out of a garbage bin” by someone with malicious intent.

However Aberdeenshire Council lawyers said the incident had been investigated and was not considered a data breach.

Karen Wiles, the council’s legal chief, said: “We took very seriously the complaint you made in that regard. Our solicitor concluded there was no breach in that incident.

“I hope you could accept the terms of their advice. I am assured the right advice was given.”

Mrs Wiles added that the email containing the details was both sent and received via council email accounts.

“It did not leave the system,” she said. “And we asked councillors to keep location details confidential. There was no breach.”

During the meeting of Aberdeenshire’s business services committee, councillors also agreed an update to the authority’s IT code of conduct which governs how members use their electronic equipment.

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