Sunday 20 October 2019

Court allows Data Protection Commissioner to use ODCE papers in INM data breach inquiry

Independent House in Dublin
Independent House in Dublin
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon has been given permission to use documents filed with the High Court to further her inquiry into a major suspected data breach at Independent News & Media (INM).

The President of the High Court today granted an application from the DPC for her office to be able to use documents filed with the court by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) and INM.

The papers were filed as part of the ODCE’s application for the appointment of inspectors to INM to investigate the suspected data breach and other corporate governance issues.

The application is due to be heard next week and is being opposed by INM, which says it is “unwarranted”.

The court documents include an extract from an affidavit filed by ODCE director Ian Drennan dealing with a so-called “interrogation” of data which was held on INM’s IT back-up tapes in 2014.

Evidence gathered by the ODCE has given rise to fears the data was searched for information relating to several individuals, including journalists, newspaper executives and senior barristers.

The DPC was given the documents earlier this year following an order by Mr Justice Peter Kelly. However, that order prohibited it from using the documents for any purpose other than the ODCE proceedings.

David Fennelly BL, for the DPC, today told Mr Justice Kelly his client had issued a formal notice of investigation to INM on June 26.

He submitted it would be appropriate for the court to vary the previous order so the documentation can be used for the purposes of the DPC investigation.

Bairbre O’Neill BL, counsel for INM, said it was consenting to the application.

Neil Steen SC, for the ODCE, said his client had no objections.

Mr Justice Kelly granted the application, observing the commissioner quite clearly had statutory obligations and entitlements to investigate matters under her remit.

INM has said the data back-up tapes were given to a third party service provider on the instructions of then chairman Leslie Buckley.

He has claimed the exercise was part of “a cost reduction exercise”. Mr Buckley maintains the data was searched for information about a legal services contract he wished to renegotiate.

However, INM has said ODCE correspondence suggests the data may have been “searched more extensively and for a different purpose”.

Mr Buckley, who was a nominee of INM’s largest shareholder Denis O’Brien, stepped down from INM’s board in March.

Legal proceedings were issued against Mr Buckley by INM in May.

It is understood the publisher is claiming to have suffered damage as a result of his alleged actions.

Mr Buckley has said he plans to fully and robustly defend himself against each and every allegation.

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