Two private detectives hired by credit unions that used "subterfuge" to dupe government employees into giving them personal information have been convicted for breaching the Data Protection Act.
Company directors Margaret Stuart, (56), of Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow, and Wendy Martin, (45), of Ballybrack, Co Dublin, were fined €10,500 for illegally obtaining the personal information of credit union clients who were in arrears.
Both women pleaded guilty to five sample charges on behalf of their company MCK Rentals of Trafalger Rd, Greystones and one sample charge each.
Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney told the court that the personal information was obtained by "blagging".
An analysis of phone calls from MCK to a Department of Social Protection worker in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim revealed a pattern in which a woman claiming to be "Colette" from the VEC would routinely request addresses of bogus students, while the worker unwittingly supplied the information.
He told the court that a similar analysis found an employee at the HSE also unwittingly gave out addresses to a woman claiming to be "Anne" from Dr Steeven's Hospital in order to trace the addresses of medical card holders.
The addresses were then given to MCK's clients to track 23 credit union clients in arrears.
Clients included St Mary's Parish and Caherdavin credit unions in Limerick, credit unions in Portlaoise and Portarlington, Co Laois, Tullamore, Co Offaly, and Athy and Monasterevin in Co Kildare.
Bray District Court Judge David Kennedy imposed a fine of €1,500 for each charge that were among 23 initial charges.
"This is a very serious breach of data protection laws on an ongoing basis," he said.