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Insurance firms face prosecution over alleged breaches of privacy

AT least three insurance companies will be prosecuted for alleged breaches of Ireland's data protection laws.

The Irish Independent has learned that summons have recently been served on the companies, who will face prosecution this year.

It is understood they relate to breaches of the Data Protection Act, after the companies allegedly obtained personal information about members of the public to which they were not entitled.

The fresh prosecutions have resulted from a long-running and "extensive" investigation into alleged breaches in the insurance industry by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC).

Three years ago the ODPC published a data protection Code of Practice for the insurance sector.

The code was prepared against a backdrop of significant public concern arising from media reports that personal information held by the gardai and by the Department of Social Protection was being routinely accessed by private investigators acting on behalf of insurance companies. The insurance industry investigations have resulted in the offices of private investigators being raided as well as the offices of solicitors and accountants.

The fresh criminal charges also follow the recent sentencing of three people charged with offences under the Data Protection Act.

Last month Circuit Court Judge Mr Justice Patrick McCartan heard that gardai were called in to investigate data breaches relating to an executive of Brinks Allied security company.

In a separate case, a retired garda working as a private investigator for Quinn Insurance has admitted asking his daughter-in-law, a former Revenue Commissioners employee, to look up files of people who had claims against the insurer.

Adele McKeown (27) of Knockshee View, Old Golf Links Road, Blackrock, Co Louth, pleaded guilty to disclosing personal data to her father John McKeown (51) on March 5, 2009.

Her father, of Ave Maria, Dublin Road, Dundalk, admitted asking her to disclose the data.

In another data breach, retired Detective Garda Gerry Murray (58), also with an address in Dundalk, pleaded guilty to asking Ms McKeown to look up Revenue Commission records for a named individual on June 10, 2010.

Ms McKeown was also charged with four other counts of disclosing personal data of four other named individuals and these charges were taken into consideration.

At the time Ms McKeown was engaged to and has since married Murray's son, who is a member of the Irish Defence Forces.

The court heard how a garda investigation found that the motives for the data breaches were "more mundane than sinister" and related to business associations and not any other criminal activity.

Last year the ODPC carried out 32 audits of organisations.

Many of the audits were focused on particular sectors, including the insurance sector, banks, schools, pharmacies and charities.

Irish Independent