Gardai prepare file on welfare officer
Published 20/12/2010 | 05:00
Gardai are expected to send a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in the coming weeks following an investigation into the suspected sale by a civil servant of personal information on hundreds of claim-ants to a private detective.
The civil servant, who was working in the Department of Social Protection, has been suspended and gardai and the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) have been investigating the incident for a number of weeks.
It is understood the DPC has also raided the private investigator's office and the premises of three insurance firms to gather information on the claimants.
The civil servant was questioned after supervisors noticed he was looking into records that he had no authority over.
They then double-checked the individual's unusual access patterns with phone logs that showed he was in communication with a number associated with a private investigator.
The department provides unemployment benefits and social services to just under one million people every week.
It will now have to contact hundreds of welfare recipients whose privacy may have been breached.
Both the civil servant and the private investigator could face criminal prosecution charges for breaching data-protection legislation.
And a file is expected to be sent to the DPP shortly.
"I expect a file will be sent to the DPP -- when criminality is suspected, the DPP is the final arbiter," a government source said.
"This will take place following the conclusion of the investigation by the gardai and the DPC."
A spokeswoman for Social Protection Minister Eamon O'Cuiv confirmed the investigation, but said she could not elaborate on the proceedings.
"Obviously, the department would like to be in a position to provide more information in the matter, but is anxious not to disclose anything that may hinder the ongoing investigation or may in any way jeopardise actions that might be taken by the department, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner or the Director of Public Prosecutions," she said.
Labour spokeswoman on social welfare Roisin Shortall commended the department for picking up on the issue.
"I'm glad to see this breach of confidentiality was uncovered," she said. "I hope the law will take its course now."