Monday 11 November 2019

Garda who 'effectively wrote his own P45' by sharing 'highly sensitive' information convicted of data protection breaches

Former Dublin based Garda Joseph O'Connor was fined €3,000 after he pleaded guilty to illegally disclosing information on private individuals to other
Former Dublin based Garda Joseph O'Connor was fined €3,000 after he pleaded guilty to illegally disclosing information on private individuals to other
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

A GARDA who illegally shared “highly sensitive” information on a road accident that he looked up on the Pulse system has been convicted of data protection breaches.

Joseph O’Connor (38) was fined €3,000 after a court heard he had already resigned, having “effectively written his own P45.”

The disclosure of the information was one of three incidents in which he passed on personal details about private citizens to third parties without permission.

O’Connor, a former Dublin-based garda with an address at Morell Grove, Naas, Co Kildare, pleaded guilty to three counts of breaching data protection laws.

Dublin District Court heard the case was brought by Superintendent George Kyne of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

The case first came before the court on July 11, when the DPP directed summary disposal of the case in the district court on a guilty plea only.

The accused had then entered his guilty plea.

Judge Michael Walsh, summarising the evidence, said the first incident happened between June 11, and June 15, 2011 when the accused obtained personal information on a man and disclosed without permission to another man.

The man he passed the information to had worked with the victim in Saudi Arabia, they were known to each other and it was “of a sensitive nature.”

In the second breach, between June 5 and 7, 2012, O'Connor again obtained personal data relating to one man and passed it on to another. This was done without the authority either of the man in question or the Data Controller.

The third breach happened on a date unknown between February 20 and 22, 2013 when O’Connor obtained data on another man and disclosed this “highly sensitive” information to an acquaintance of that man.

These details related to a road traffic accident.

Judge Walsh said gardai had obligations under the Data Protection Act, and information and personal data “can only be obtained and used in a manner compatible with its purpose."

He was satisfied on the evidence that the accused had been in serious breach of data protection legislation and they were “serious offences carried out by a member of An Garda Siochana acting in the course of his duty.”

He said O’Connor, on becoming a garda, undertook an oath to faithfully discharge his duties with integrity and honesty and “the accused in committing these offences was in breach of his oath.”

He noted the accused was of previously good character and had an “unblemished record” during 11 years of service.

He “effectively terminated his own employment… he effectively wrote his own P45,” the judge said.

O’Connor’s activities would have “inevitably come to the attention of the data controller” and have serious implications for his career.

Judge Walsh noted the accused had now tendered his resignation from his employment, which had saved the expense of disciplinary proceedings.

“He has lost his career as a result of these criminal acts which he committed,” Judge Walsh said.

The defendant was entitled to credit for his early plea of guilty and the judge said O’Connor had not benefitted materially from his disclosures. The breaches also did not lead to loss or damage for any parties.

He fined the defendant €750 on the first charge, €1,000 on the second and €1,250 on the third.

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