The Department of Agriculture suspects that an employee may have accessed the financial records of an unstated number of farmers. It has launched an internal investigation.
This is alarming news, and not only for potential victims. Vast amounts of confidential personal information are held in government departments and agencies. Supposedly they are inviolate under the Data Protection Act. In reality they are at constant risk from computer-related attacks and leaks.
And the public have a right to be gravely worried about inadequate procedures.
Two months ago, three insurance companies pleaded guilty in the Dublin District Court to 10 counts of violating the Data Protection Act. This followed an investigation by the Department of Social Protection, which found that a private detective agency had obtained personal information about people's employment, earnings and welfare claims from a source in the department. Earlier, employees of the same department and of the Revenue Commissioners were caught snooping on personal records, and in certain cases tampering with them.
Some resigned. Others had pay increases suspended for a number of years. Surely offences of this kind merit more severe punishment, including prison sentences? And surely the managers of every large enterprise should address the question of computer crime more seriously? The odds at present are far too much in favour of the perpetrators.