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Wednesday 25 April 2018

Data protection commissioner ‘concern’ over improper access to Garda Pulse system

Further pressure on Garda Commissioner as Tanaiste joins calls for him to withdraw ‘disgusting’ comment

Martin Callinan
Martin Callinan

Tom Brady and Fionnan Sheehan

The Data Protection Commissioner has expressed concern about any improper access to the Garda’s internal Pulse computer system by any member of the force and the risk of highly sensitive information being disclosed outside the organisation.

He made his views known in a report prepared following an audit of the data protection measures implemented by the garda authorities during a period covering 2011 to October 2013.

It is over a year since Mr Hawkes began conducting the audit.

It emerged that members of the force had been accessing information on the system about a number of high-profile public, media and sporting figures.

The records of one person who works in the modelling industry were accessed over 80 times, while another public figure was checked over 50 times.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said this afternoon he welcomed the report’s main finding that “the majority of the areas examined demonstrated a professional police force operating in compliance with data protection legislation”.

He said that, in particular, the data protection commissioner found no major issues with the force’s measures in a number of key areas, including the garda vetting system, use of CCTV, use of subscriber data held by telecoms companies, automatic number plate recognition and procedures dealing with criminal charges and offenders.

Mr Callinan said he shared the concerns about any improper access to Pulse and pointed out that he had expressed his disquiet publicly about this on several occasions.

A number of gardai have been subject to internal discipline for inappropriate access to Pulse within the period of the audit.

Mr Callinan said that while any breach was unacceptable, it should be noted that this relatively low number of breaches indicated that the vast majority of members were in compliance with the data protection legislation and the Garda data protection code of practice.

Mr Callinan’s comments support his view expressed to a Dail public accounts committee last January he said he encouraged his members to report wrongdoing but said it should be done through the proper channels and procedures.

His remark describing the behaviour of the two garda whistleblowers - in making what he described as unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against senior officers - as “disgusting” has landed him in the middle of a political row.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar and Social Protection Joan Burton have called him to withdraw his comment.

Meanwhile Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore is now also strongly backing calls for the Garda Commissioner to withdraw his comments about garda whistleblowers.

Mr Gilmore is sick and unable to comment in person on the controversy around Commissioner Martin

Callinan's description of the actions of the penalty points whistleblowers as "disgusting".

Labour Party deputy leader Joan Burton supported Transport Ministers Leo Varadkar's call for the

Commissioner to withdraw his remark, saying it would be "helpful".

Now Mr Gilmore is also backing that stance by the Social Protection Minister. 

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