Published Tuesday, 11 February 2014
Justice Minister David Ford blamed the breach on human error. (© Pacemaker)
One of the department's agencies, the Northern Ireland Compensation Agency, sent 59 filing cabinets without keys to auction.
But, a person who had bought a locked cabinet had to contact the police when he found papers inside it after forcing the cabinet open.
The paperwork, dating from the 1970s until 2005, contained highly sensitive information including personal details relating to victims of a terrorist attack, the injuries they suffered and the amount of compensation being offered, as well as private ministerial advice.
The PSNI took possession of the papers and returned them to the department who then reported the incident to the Information Commissioner.
After an investigation, the Department of Justice said that it is content that the cabinet remained locked until the purchaser forced it open and immediately reported the presence of papers to the PSNI.
Justice Minister David Ford said: "I, and my Department, take the security of personal data very seriously and accept that this was a breach of the Data Protection Act and should not have happened. We informed the Information Commissioner as soon as we became aware of the breach. The Justice Committee was also subsequently made aware. The Department has co-operated fully with the Information Commissioner and paid the penalty imposed.
"This was an unfortunate breach of data security caused by simple human error and not a systemic problem within the Department. We are satisfied that none of the information was compromised and none of the other cabinets sold contained any files.
"Detailed procedures have now been implemented to ensure that, in future, any personal data contained in furniture that is being disposed of will be dealt with securely," he concluded.
Following a probe, the Information Commissioner imposed a Monetary Penalty Notice of £185k on the Department of Justice, which was then discounted to £148k for early payment.
© UTV News