Investigators say they have seized computer equipment following searches at two homes over the leaking of CCTV footage that led to Matt Hancock’s downfall as health secretary.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said two raids were carried out in the south of England on Thursday as it investigates an alleged data breach.
Hancock had to resign from the Cabinet after the Sun newspaper published footage of the Conservative MP kissing an aide in his departmental office, in breach of coronavirus rules.
The ICO said the Emcor Group, which provides CCTV services at the Department of Health and Social Care, submitted a breach report alleging the images were taken from the system without consent.
Investigators seized “personal computer equipment and electronic devices” as part of the inquiry into breaches of the Data Protection Act.
Hancock resigned as health secretary the day after the leaked footage of the embrace with Gina Coladangelo on May 6 appeared on the front page of the Sun on June 25.
The newspaper’s editor, Victoria Newton, said its news desk was contacted by “an angry whistle-blower” over the footage on June 23 before a reporter was “dispatched” to view it the following day.
The ICO said the alleged breach falls under Section 170 of the Data Protection Act 2018, which does include a “public interest” defence under certain circumstances.
The leak prompted security concerns in Whitehall, and new Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the camera was switched off after he succeeded Hancock.
Director of investigations Steve Eckersley said: “It’s vital that all people, including employees and visitors to public buildings, have trust and confidence in the protection of their personal data captured by CCTV.
“In these circumstances, the ICO aims to react swiftly and effectively to investigate where there is a risk that other people may have unlawfully obtained personal data. We have an ongoing investigation into criminal matters and will not be commenting further until it is concluded.”
Police and crime commissioners (PCC) said the investigation should be referred to the police.
Festus Akinbusoye, the newly elected Conservative PCC for Bedfordshire, said: “Yes, I think it needs to be.
“Despite the right or wrongs of what was done, there’s a serious issue here as to the security breach and it’s important that Government ministers are able to do their job without having to worry about being filmed, especially in what should be a secure environment.”
Lincolnshire’s PCC Marc Jones, a Conservative who was appointed chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners on Thursday, said: “It does make a difference to our standing internationally, if we can’t keep our own government buildings secure then that has implications.
“So it’s really important that this is dealt with appropriately, professionally and that Government can have confidence that it can go about its business on all of our behalves.”
By Sam Blewett