Data Commissioner backs garda chief's stance on disclosure of Pulse information
Published 22/03/2014 | 02:30
DATA Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes has supported the stance taken by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in criticising the disclosure of confidential information from the force's Pulse computer system.
Mr Hawkes said the two whistleblowers had a moral duty to report any corruption or malpractice in the force.
But he argued that after they had highlighted the cancellations of penalty points there should not have been continued access to Pulse and the disclosure of confidential data to third parties.
Mr Hawkes's backing for Mr Callinan's position came after the publication of an audit carried out by his office of the data protection measures implemented by the gardai during a period covering from the beginning of 2011 to October 2013.
Welcoming the findings in the report, Mr Callinan said the Data Protection Commissioner was right to be concerned about improper access to Pulse by any member of the Garda and the risk of the disclosure of highly sensitive personal data outside of the organisation.
As the Garda's data controller, he shared those concerns and had expressed his disquiet about this publicly on several occasions.
Mr Callinan had earlier rejected suggestions he used the word "disgusting" in relation to the two whistleblowers, Sgt Maurice McCabe and former garda John Wilson. He said he used the term at a Dail Public Accounts Committee meeting in the context of outlining how he would support any member of the force who reported wrongdoing, but said it should be done through the agreed mechanisms and procedures.
Mr Callinan said his use of the word was in reference to the manner in which sensitive data was inappropriately appearing in the public domain.
A statement was issued on his behalf after Transport Minister Leo Varadkar told a road safety conference on Thursday that the behaviour of the whistleblowers was "distinguished", not "disgusting".
During the PAC meeting in January, Mr Callinan said he encouraged his members to report wrongdoing but said this should be done through the proper channels, either by passing on the information to the garda authorities or else through the confidential reporting system.
He described the behaviour of the two whistleblowers as disgusting in opting to make unsubstantiated allegations of corruption and criminality against senior colleagues in a public forum.
He suggested that it was extraordinarily unfair that those allegations were being aired when nobody else in the force had sight of them, adding that the whistleblowers "may very well be misguided on the state of the information they have".
He pointed out to the committee that the information provided by the two men did not give the full picture.
They would only have been looking at "a snapshot" from the internal Pulse computer system. It would have been impossible to conclude, Mr Callinan added, whether garda discretion was used correctly or incorrectly without having access to the audit trail.
A senior garda officer also denied a claim by Mr Varadkar that the whistleblowers had only released information after they had tried to use the correct procedures and the procedures had failed them.
He said only one specific complaint had been lodged through the internal procedures and this related to four separate instances of penalty points being cancelled by a superintendent.