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Sunday 4 December 2016

Watchdog demands to know if garda use of Gmail widespread

Published 25/11/2016 | 02:30

Policing Authority chairperson Josephine Feehily. Photo: Colin O’Riordan
Policing Authority chairperson Josephine Feehily. Photo: Colin O’Riordan

The Policing Authority has sought a report from An Garda Síochána about the extent to which Gmail is used by members of the force for official business.

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The move came after the authority was informed that commercial email services were provided on garda devices across the force, but are used to send only non-sensitive material.

The disclosure was made as Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan insisted there is no evidence to suggest the force's security controls have been compromised by her use of a Gmail account for official business.

The authority's chairperson, Josephine Feehily, requested a report on the balance between the volume of emails sent on the official Garda email system versus those sent via Gmail.

She also asked the report detail how security risks are "mitigated" and how material sent via Gmail can be "interrogated".

The request came after Garda chief administrative officer Joseph Nugent told the authority that Gmail was put in place on devices provided by the force.

"In the very rare occasions when it is needed, it has been used for non-sensitive material," he said.

Mr Nugent said he was confident there had been no threat to An Garda Síochána's systems.

He said he had looked at hundreds of emails in the commissioner's account and was satisfied there was no security issue.

Mr Nugent said certain third-party services were used for convenience and never for sensitive material. Only material that was in the public domain, such as speeches, was sent using the email service.

However, he said Garda policy on the use of email was currently being reviewed in light of reported attacks by hackers on commercial email providers. The review began in August.

Since then, access to Gmail has been prohibited within the force's physical wired network.

He said members of the force had also been reminded what they could and could not do with personal email accounts.

Mr Nugent said it was not possible to access certain file types on Garda systems.

There had also been a segregation of systems, so material from official Garda emails could not have been pasted into Gmails.

Garda email can be accessed only by devices configured by the force, he said.

"I can't walk into an internet café and access Garda email," said Mr Nugent.

Earlier, Ms O'Sullivan insisted there was no evidence to suggest the force's security controls had been compromised by her use of a Gmail account for official business.

"I just want to go out on record that I am very conscious of my obligations to protect national security and policing operations and would under no circumstances use any system which would allow them to be compromised," she said.

Irish Independent

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