Tuesday 19 June 2018

Data watchdog to investigate alleged email breach at INM

INM
INM

Dearbhail McDonald and Shane Phelan

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon confirmed last night she intends to undertake an investigation into the suspected data breach at media company Independent News and Media.

The company had already said it contacted the commissioner after being informed of new information by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement on March 23 last.

In a further revelation, the Irish Independent has learned that almost 40,000 emails of former INM Ireland chief executive Joe Webb may have been sourced during an alleged removal and interrogation of data from the company’s premises in October 2014.

Mr Webb was one of 19 people named on a “persons of interest” list discovered by the corporate enforcement watchdog during its investigation into the suspected data breach at the company.

One of the reasons given for a data search by former chairman Leslie Buckley, the ODCE said, was that management could not find a contract with a services provider. It is understood the provider involved was for legal services.

Mr Buckley also said the company was doing a cost base exercise at the time.

Also on the list of 19 people were two distinguished journalists, Brendan O’Connor, deputy editor of the ‘Sunday Independent’, editor of ‘Life’ magazine and a successful television and radio broadcaster, and his colleague on the same newspaper, respected investigative journalist Maeve Sheehan.

It is unclear why they were on the list. The Excel spreadsheet containing the 19 names contains no context and gives no indication of the purpose of the list.

Meanwhile, the ODCE is now seeking the appointment of High Court inspectors to investigate a range of corporate governance issues at Ireland’s largest media company and claims it has been unable to access five password-protected documents, the file names of which suggest they could be “highly relevant” to its inquiries.

The State’s corporate watchdog also claims to have uncovered a series of text messages it says were sent to former INM chairman Leslie Buckley by John Henry, chief executive of Special Security Services Limited.

ODCE director Ian Drennan is claiming the data interrogation was directed by then INM chairman Leslie Buckley and he believes Mr Henry ran the interrogation of INM’s IT back-up tapes, which may have been accessed by at least six companies external to INM.

Mr Buckley has previously told the High Court that Specialist Security Services provided certain security services to him and that Mr Henry was the person who initially introduced him to Derek Mizak, another IT expert, in order to assist with what Mr Buckley described as a “cost-reduction exercise” at INM.

Two invoices associated with the data interrogation, one for €46,260 to TDS UK and one for €14,944 to DMZ IT were paid by Blaydon Limited, an Isle of Man company whose beneficial owner is businessman Denis O’Brien, INM’s largest single shareholder and a long-term business associate of Mr Buckley.

Mr Drennan brings attention to a series of text messages to Mr Buckley sent by Mr Henry which he says appear to contradict Mr Buckley’s assertion, to a special committee set up by INM, that “nothing at all was found” in the course of electronic searches of data.

Mr Buckley told the committee the searches were part of a review of one of INM’s professional services contracts whose high cost and duration he had queried.

“Just looking at JW archive mailbox with mails going back to 1999!!!! Yuppiee!!!,” wrote Mr Henry in a text message sent to Mr Buckley on October 13, 2014, it is claimed.

“Will have 39,354 jw emails,” wrote Mr Henry, sending a later text on the same day which read: “Making some progress. Have solution to get stuff out as well. Got tapes. Talk later”.

The ODCE has also highlighted a further text message sent by Mr Henry to Mr Buckley on March 2, 2015. This text message stated: “Hi Leslie. Could we discuss Webb. May have something. Talk face to face rather than phone”.

In its affidavit in support of its application to have inspectors appointed to INM, Mr Drennan claims the email and text communications between Mr Buckley and Mr Henry make it clear that Mr Henry “was, for all practical purposes, running the data interrogation”.

Mr Drennan alleges it is also evident that there was “regular contact between Mr Henry and the chairman for the purpose of keeping the latter apprised of the project progress and of any difficulties arising”.

Last night, a spokesperson for Mr Buckley said: “It is not appropriate to comment as a review process is ongoing”.

As well as Mr O’Connor and Ms Sheehan, the “persons of interest” list of names included two senior barristers who represented the Moriarty Tribunal.

They are Jerry Healy SC and Jacqueline O’Brien SC.

The lawyer’s names appear on the list alongside four journalists, six former INM board and staff members and seven other people.

Sam Smyth, a journalist who left the company before the suspected data breach occurred, and Rory Godson, who was identified as a journalist but has worked in public relations for many years, were on the list.

The former INM board and staff members on the list are Mr Webb, Karl Brophy, Vincent Crowley, Donal Buggy, James Osborne and Mandy Scott.

In the affidavit, Mr Drennan listed seven “additional persons” whose names appeared on an Excel spreadsheet.

Four of these people either work, or have worked in the past, for an investor relations and strategic communications company called FTI Consulting. They are Mark Kenny, Jonathan Neilan, Jenny Kilroy and Harriet Mansergh.

This company did work for INM several years ago.

Another person named is Nick Cooper, an employee of Cable and Wireless, a British multinational telecommunications company with interests in the Caribbean.

Also named on the list is Ann Marie Healy, former head of group treasury at INM.

A seventh person is listed as Andrew Donoghue. It is unclear what this person’s link, if any, is to INM.

There is some speculation this surname is incorrect and is likely to be corrected.

Online Editors

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business