Business Irish

Friday 21 October 2016

Theft of laptop owned by senior Noonan aide sparks data scare

Feared breach alert by one of Finance Minister's closest advisers prompted watchdog probe

Simon Rowe

Published 17/07/2016 | 02:30

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan TD. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan TD. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The theft of a laptop computer belonging to one of Michael Noonan's closest aides sparked a major data breach alert at the Department of Finance due to fears that confidential files could have been disclosed.

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The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner was notified after a laptop used by Alan Kavanagh, a special adviser and personal assistant to the Finance Minister, was stolen, the Sunday Independent has learned.

An investigation was conducted by the data protection watchdog after Alan Kavanagh filed a Breach Notification.

Kavanagh runs Minister Noonan's constituency office in Limerick and is considered one of his closest political advisers.

A flurry of emails was exchanged between senior Finance officials following the theft of the laptop, with Minister Noonan's private secretary Alex Lalor, a top official in the Office of the Minister of Finance and the IT unit of the Oireachtas included in the paper trail.

Following assurances by Alan Kavanagh that the laptop had been encrypted and the password was not stored with the device, the matter was concluded by the ODPC as "a non-breach" and the case was closed last year, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

However, only a few weeks before Kavanagh's laptop was reported stolen in late January 2015, a senior compliance manager at the data protection watchdog had contacted senior civil servants about reports he had received of a suspected data breach involving confidential Department of Finance files.

The ODPC investigating officer's concerns, which were forwarded by email to Liam Kilmartin, head of compliance at the Department of Finance, outlined that the data protection watchdog had received a query relating to a suspected data breach involving "the disclosure of salary details of 15 Department of Finance employees".

Liam Kilmartin replied, saying: "We have asked about the query internally and there is nothing we are aware of that would match what the query is describing.

"As you know we view potential data breaches as a serious matter and have reported issues to your office in the past."

Kilmartin concluded in his email to the ODPC: "If you receive any further details of the potential breach, please let us know as we would be very concerned to investigate if there is a serious issue here."

He later added that the query over a rumoured "salary data breach" at the Department of Finance may have been related to a previous breach that had already been reported to the ODPC in the previous year. This case was "closed off at the time" by officials, said Liam Kilmartin.

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