FOURTEEN employees of the Department of Social and Family Affairs are being investigated for allegedly passing comprehensive personal information to insurance companies on a regular basis.
The Irish Independent has learned that some of the alleged breaches -- which came to light in April 2007 -- involve "one of Ireland's largest insurance companies" and date back to 2006.
The allegations involve the passing of personal and sensitive information, contained on data systems within the Department of Social and Family Affairs (DSFA), to third parties for commercial benefit.
The DSFA carries all personal details on all individuals in the state including PPS numbers, dates of birth, addresses as well as earnings details.
Private investigators work for the insurance companies to compile cases against drivers. But there is concern about the level of information that the inspectors for the insurance companies are obtaining.
Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes said in an email to the DSFA last June: "I inspected five investigator files yesterday during a planned call back to X (large insurance company).
"This revealed very-worrying levels of disclosure from the DSFA to private investigators. From what I could discern, such disclosures are routine and very comprehensive."
He went on to say that his office is focusing on two particular cases, both of which are in the Meath area.
"In each case the individual's full history of engagement with the Department was included in a file prepared by the private investigator."
But disturbingly none of the alleged breaches were detected within the department itself.
Instead they were brought to the attention of officials by outside parties.
a spokeswoman for the DSFA said: "Information on six of these cases was supplied by a journalist, while the Data Protection Commissioner initially brought a further two cases to our attention. More recently, the Data Protection Commissioner has supplied details of a further six cases."
Some of the cases from the Commissioner would have been detected while carrying out audits of the insurance companies.
The spokeswoman said that no breach has been detected in five of the cases to date but the remaining nine are still being investigated. The department also declined to reveal the result of the two cases which the Commissioner brought to the department's attention.
internal documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal: "The department conducted an audit of access to their records and initiated an investigation into the activity of an individual who accessed both." The next few sentences are blacked out on the documents.
Commissioner Billy Hawkes confirmed at the launch of his 2007 report last month that insurance companies have have improper access to garda records.
The insurance companies are unlikely to face any prosecution over the breaches.