Private investigator fined for mining personal information from gardaí

A private investigator has been fined €5,000 after he was convicted of breaking data protection laws by obtaining private personal information held by gardaí and the ESB.

Judge John O’Neill heard that credit unions hired former garda Michael J Gaynor, now trading as MJG Investigations, from Beatty Grove, Celbridge, Co Kildare, to track down bad debtors. He provided them with “trace reports” to assist them locate debtors for the purpose of initiating legal proceedings.

Fining Gaynor, the judge said: “I can understand how credit unions and financial institutions might need services in tracking down somebody, but enquiries must kept within the law.”

In addition to the fine, Gaynor must pay about €5,000 in costs.

His trace reports on two people were submitted to his credit union clients within days of those individuals’ files being accessed on the Garda Pulse computer system.

Judge O’Neill described Gaynor, 62, as unconvincing and evasive in his claims that he had only contacted a former Garda colleague to give him information which gardaí may find useful.

Gaynor was prosecuted at the Dublin District Court following an investigation by the office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

He contested charges involving obtaining data from the Garda Pulse system and Garda National Immigration Bureau computer records, in 2013.

However, he admitted 69 charges under the Data Protection Act for unlawfully obtaining and processing personal data on a number of individuals from a source in the ESB last year.

Tony Delaney, assistant data protection commiss-ioner, said Gaynor used subterfuge to get that information, which included details on when, how, and where ESB bills were paid.

The ESB source had assisted Gaynor in legitimate garda inquiries since the 1990s but had not been told that Gaynor had retired in 2005 and only found out seven years later, Mr Delaney said.

He said that ESB official acted as “the eyes of Mr Gaynor looking at the computer screen”.

Judge O’Neill heard evidence from Det Paul Cullen of the GNIB, who repeatedly denied passing on data to his friend and former colleague. He said Gaynor phoned him at work to give him of information on people because Gaynor thought they may be of interest to gardaí.

Computer analysis showed that Det Garda Cullen had accessed computer files in relation to individuals being investigated by Gaynor.

Gaynor told his barrister, Justin McQuade, that he had been a garda for 35 years and had worked in detective units for 30 years. He said he felt some of the people he was tracing for the credit unions may have been of interest to gardaí.

Judge O’Neill convicted Gaynor and imposed fines totalling €5,000, which must be paid within six months or he will be jailed for 28 days. The charges for unlawfully obtaining information from the ESB were taken into consideration.

The court heard Gaynor had a weekly €450 pension and earned about €300 a week from investigations.

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