Telecoms giant Vodafone mistakenly sent data from more than 1,000 phone numbers, including employees of News UK, to Scotland Yard.
The Times newspaper, which alongside The Sun is published by News UK, reported the revelations on Tuesday.
The report explains that detectives asked Vodafone for the data as part of an investigation into possible illegal payments made to public officials by journalists. Vodafone was asked to provide information for calls made between 2005 and 2007.
At first it was believed only details from one reporter at News UK (then called News International) were passed on. In the investigation, called Operation Elveden, the Met police used powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to obtain the information.
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But the police actually received data from 1,000s of numbers, The Times says. Officers claim the error was reported to the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office in June. Apparently the mistake came to light after a fuller examination.
Staff at News UK were told about the situation on Tuesday. The Met claims operatives understood the data’s sensitivity and it was returned to Vodafone securely, though there have been suggestions the force was going to use it. Vodafone claims that “human error” led to more numbers being handed over.