Judge tells Red Flag to hand over staff's personal devices for forensic imaging
A judge has ordered various executives and staff of the Dublin-based Red Flag consulting firm to hand over for "forensic imaging" any personal computers and devices used by them for work purposes.
They are being sued in the High Court by businessman Denis O'Brien over an alleged conspiracy to damage him.
The order allows digital for- ensic experts to photograph material on the equipment - pending a ruling whether that material can be inspected for use in Mr O'Brien's action against Red Flag and various members of its executive and staff.
Mr Justice Colm MacEochaidh said yesterday that the order would balance the rights to privacy of the individuals and Mr O'Brien's right to establish the "fingerprints" on a dossier of material sent to him anonymously.
Mr O'Brien, the largest shareholder in INM which publishes this newspaper, claims that material is largely unfavourable to him, and he believes Red Flag was involved in putting it together for an unnamed client.
The judge said the case involved "at its simplest" a "smoking gun" which came into the possession of Mr O'Brien and which he says contained significant material about him which he says is evidence of a conspiracy to harm him.
In this case, the "Rubicon of the invasion of privacy" was crossed when the court last month ordered the preservation of the computer equipment at issue after which the forensic imaging was also ordered, the judge said.
There is now little real distinction between equipment used for professional and personal purposes as all of us use personal devices for work purposes and also work devices for personal purposes, he said.
An invasion of privacy in relation to private matters was "absolutely inevitable" once those orders were made.
Mr O'Brien had generously agreed to pay the "reasonable" costs of the forensic imaging process, the judge noted.
On completion of that process, the material will be stored pending a hearing on December 8 on whether it may be inspected by Mr O'Brien's side.
Earlier, the judge was told that Red Flag estimated the imaging costs as more than €113,000 if Mr O'Brien was permitted to have his experts image all the devices of all staff.
Michael Cush SC, for Mr O'Brien, estimated the cost at about €500 per device and €30,000 for imaging all devices.
The judge's order means Red Flag chairman Seamus Conboy, CEO Karl Brophy, non-executive director Gavin O'Reilly, and two staff members must provide, for forensic imaging, any personal computers, laptops, mobile phones and other devices used by them for work purposes.