The arrest records of around 150,000 people have been accidentally wiped from a police database.
Data such as fingerprints, DNA, and arrest histories were lost last week, according to the Times, which broke the story.
The Home Office has said that the wiped records only related to people who had been arrested and released when no further action was taken. No data associated with criminals or dangerous persons had been deleted.
However, the missing evidence could make it more difficult for police to reopen investigations.
The Times warned that offenders could possibly escape arrest and prosecution due to missing data not being flagged on the Police National Computer (PNC).
According to the Home Office, it is working with police to assess how the missing data will affect operations. The Home Office added the accident occurred during a weekly “weeding” session to expunge data.
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said: “Earlier this week, a standard housekeeping process that runs on the police national computer deleted a number of records in error.
“A fast time review has identified the problem and corrected the process so it cannot happen again.”
Opposition party Labour has called on Home Secretary Priti Partel to take responsibility for the loss of the arrest records.
“This is an extraordinarily serious security breach that presents huge dangers for public safety,” said Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary.
“The Home Secretary must take responsibility for this serious problem. She must – urgently – make a statement about what has gone wrong, the extent of the issue, and what action is being taken to reassure the public. Answers must be given.”
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Human error plays a significant role in data breaches. Research from Gallagher found that 60% of 3.5 million company security breaches were caused by individual mistakes, while the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said human error was responsible for 90% of UK data breaches in 2019.
In September last year, a data breach occurred when Public Health Wales accidentally uploaded the data on over 18,000 Covid patients to a public-facing server. The breach was down to something as simple as an employee clicking the wrong button and publishing the data to a different server than intended.