The British government accidentally revealed the home and work addresses of over 1,000 celebrities, politicians, and government workers who were recipients of 2020’s new year honors. Famous faces like Elton John and Olivia Newton-John had their personal information published on a government website that allowed people to download the addresses in a spreadsheet. The data appears to have gone up on Friday night and was discovered and removed on Saturday morning.
Senior police and the Ministry of Defense staff were also exposed, making the mistake potentially a serious security breach with the possibility of grave consequences, according to The Guardian. House numbers, street addresses, and postal codes were all revealed in the downloadable document.
Every year, hundreds of people receive an honor in the U.K., typically including government employees, politicians, celebrities, and other prominent public figures. In addition to Elton John, who has been struggling with health issues in recent months, the cricket player Ben Stokes, politicians Diana Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith, noted chef Nadiya Hussain, along with Holocaust survivors, prison workers, and community faith leaders were exposed.
“A version of the new year honors 2020 list was published in error which contained recipients’ addresses,” a spokesperson for the government said. “The information was removed as soon as possible. We apologize to all those affected and are looking into how this happened. We have reported the matter to the ICO and are contacting all those affected directly.”
The slip up was noticed when a citizen contacted The Guardian after downloading the information.
“I couldn’t quite believe my eyes at first,” she said. “I thought maybe that’s just what they do. But then I checked past spreadsheets and saw there was nothing on those and I realized this must have been a catastrophic mistake.”
A data rights lawyer said that the reveal could “be catastrophic.” Because of the sensitive nature of the information, it has the potential to harm or expose those who were on the list. And, the expert notes, it’s impossible to retract the information once it is out in the public. At this point, the expert says that the government needs to work to figure out how many times it was downloaded and to try and limit the reach and damage that could result from the breach.
Silkie Carlo, the director of Big Brother Watch, noted that the breach was concerning because it shows a basic lack of data protection by the government.