Friday 18 August 2017

Civil servant investigated over sale of welfare data

Ailish O'Hora Public Affairs Correspondent

Gardai have launched an investigation into the suspected sale by a civil servant of personal information on hundreds of social welfare claimants.

The probe into the sale of information to a private investigator began after a meeting between representatives of the Department of Social Protection, gardai and the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC).

The DPC has also conducted dawn raids on offices in two banks and those of debt collectors and a number of insurance companies as part of a separate investigation.

The civil servant, who has since been suspended, was first questioned late last year after supervisors at the department noticed the official was looking into records that the individual had no authority over.

They then double-checked the official's unusual access patterns with phone logs that showed contact with a number associated with a private investigator.

The garda investigation started after the Department of Social Protection made an official complaint to them.

A file on the case is also being prepared by the gardai for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

"The DPP is the final arbiter when criminality is suspected," a government source said yesterday.

Both the civil servant and the private investigator could face criminal charges for breaching data protection legislation.

A spokesperson for the department, which provides unemployment and social benefits to just under one million people every week, would not comment any further on the investigations yesterday.

"Investigations in this case are ongoing," she said.

"The department will not be in a position to comment further until the (internal) investigation and any necessary follow-up action is fully concluded."

Breaches

However, she confirmed that the department is cracking down on staff accessing personal information on welfare claimants by tendering for a specialised computer firm to prevent further breaches.

This is not the first time department staff have been investigated for alleged breaches of guidelines.

In 2006, officials were reprimanded after they were found to have accessed the social welfare history of EuroMillions lottery winner Dolores McNamara.

At the time, the 72 officials in question got away with a slap on the wrist after it emerged that there were 106 cases where staff logged onto Ms McNamara's records in the days after her record €115m jackpot win.

Irish Independent

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