It's a fair cop as Police admits 'spam attack'

A UK police authority has been accused of breaching data protection laws by sending an unsolicited email to over 4000 businesses

The Cambridgeshire Police Authority has held up its hands to a major email blunder which resulted in an unsolicited email being sent to around 4,000 businesses - with their email addresses contained in the CC field of the message header.

One reader got in touch after receiving the email, which the authority had sent out to companies in the county to canvass opinion on a range of matters.

The disclosure of the recipients' email addresses was bad enough, but the error was compounded by the fact that some businesses subsequently received the same email at least 20 times due to a bug in the system.

Adrian Nicol, who works for Cambridgeshire-based computer systems firm Io, told he had received the email 20 times since Wednesday, plus at least 20 other emails on Friday alone from people who 'replied to all' when responding to the police's spam.

The Cambridgeshire Police Authority acquired the email list from the local council, according to a spokeswoman. However she was quick to admit that as a PR exercise the initiative backfired.

The spokeswoman said: "This was a new method of consultation. Unfortunately, due to what appears to be a major technical error, or corruption of the original files, this consultation has not been successfully executed."

She denied the Police Authority had breached any data protection laws by exposing the addresses of the recipients.

The spokeswoman said: "The names were taken from a public list, they were already in the public arena, available to other people before we used them. Therefore we do not believe that data protection has been breached on this occasion."

Cambridgeshire Police Authority advises anybody still being plagued by the message to contact their ISP and advise it to block any further emails.

A statement released by the authority said: "Cambridgeshire Police Authority apologises unreservedly for any inconvenience that this episode has caused the recipients. The consultation was carried out with the best of intentions and has unfortunately not worked in the way that we had hoped."

The spokeswoman added: "We will think carefully before carrying out any similar consultations in the future."

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