Thursday 25 December 2014

Probe into civil servant who snooped on dozens of women for 'curiosity'

Published 18/08/2014 | 02:30

Millions of eBay customers could be at risk of identity theft
Millions of eBay customers could be at risk of identity theft

A CIVIL servant has admitted snooping on personal records belonging to dozens of women including school colleagues, a former girlfriend and a person he wanted to ask out on a date.

The Department of Social Protection is investigating the "inappropriate" actions of the official, who insists that he searched the private data to satisfy his curiosity.

Documents obtained by the Irish Independent reveal how the man told his bosses that he checked the records of predominantly women in their late thirties who have not settled down.

He admitted meeting up with a female whose records he had obtained through the internal social welfare database known as 'INFOSYS'.

The employee has also been confronted by his superiors 
over making alleged "inappropriate interactions" with colleagues.

The man said his activities were "stupid and foolish" and told his superiors that medication he was taking had impeded "his judgment and caused him to do things that he would not normally do".

The actions of the official are now subject to an internal investigation by the department, according to details released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The inappropriate activities by the man, which took place during working hours, were initially detected in 2010.

He said that there were times where he would have spent one or two hours per day snooping on women and their spouses.

The man added that he would check people he went to school with to see if they were single or married and what part of the country they lived in.

Sanctioned

But after being sanctioned by the department, he was found to have again begun making 
inappropriate accesses of records last year.

Some 80pc of the people searched were women, according to the documents.

The Irish Independent understands that the latest round of snooping by the official is subject to an ongoing internal investigation.

Details of the probe are revealed after this newspaper revealed the ease with which private investigators were able to access information from the department with just a single phone call.

The so-called 'tracing agents' acting on behalf of at least a dozen credit unions, were able to wrest reams of personal data from officials in the country's biggest spending department without having to prove who they were.

All the private investigators had to do was ring up and say they were from another agency.

In one case, a private investigator didn't even give a surname, just a false Christian name.

The information was then handed back to at least 12 credit unions in return for lucrative fees.

The department said it constantly reviews its internals controls and takes its data protection responsibilities very seriously. The Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) said it condemned the practice of the private investigators, which it says its members were not aware of.

The link between the credit unions, the department and private investigators has been the subject of a year long investigation by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

As revealed last week, Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney now believes that State agencies other than the Department of Social Protection have been targeted by agents who use suspect tactics.

Mr Delaney and a number of his officials have begun building profiles of the agents in question.

A routine audit of a small number of credit unions sparked the probe revealed in the Irish Independent.

Illegal

After inspecting the books and records of credit unions, it became clear that customer records had been obtained illegally from the Department of Social Protection.

Mr Delaney and his staff last year carried out audits into 12 credit unions as part of the wide ranging probe into private investigators.

Sources say the department in question was targeted due to the reams of confidential data it possesses.

The information that was supplied to the agents working on behalf of credit unions was retrieved from a wide ranging database known as 'INFOSYS', which is similar to the garda 'PULSE' system.

Irish Independent

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