Businesses learn price to pay for prying eyes

Two significant cases in recent months have put companies on alert about the potential hits they face from excessively intruding into people’s past or their private lives.

Of particular interest to many aggrieved individuals will be the circuit court decision in March which, for the first time, awarded €15,000 to a man whose data protection rights were breached.

Michael Collins, of Mellowes Park, Finglas, had asked the court to assess his case with his insurance company, FBD.

It was already reviewed by the Data Protection Commissioner after FBD refused to disclose how it came into possession of certain information about Mr Collins.

Mr Collins, a Traveller, made a claim after his van was stolen but FBD did not pay out because he did not volunteer information about an old conviction.

The company did not reveal the existence of a private investigation report on Mr Collins revealing the conviction, which had not been disclosed on his application.

However, it was the manner in which FBD obtained the information from a private investigator, and refused to release it, which prompted Judge Jacqueline Linnane to award Mr Collins €15,000.

FBD has appealed the level of the award to the High Court.

Mr Collins’ lawyer, Fintan Lawlor, said: “Despite the existence of clear, defined legal guidelines on data protection, the privacy rights of countless citizens are breached every day with no repercussions for the perpetrators.”

In the fine print of insurance polices customers agree to allow insurance companies to pass on personal information, in confidence, with private investigators.

However, there are strict rules governing the manner in which private investigators can be engaged and what they can access.

Already this year three insurance companies — FBD, Travelers, and Zurich — had to pay €20,000 each to charity after a private investigation company had used connections in a regional office of the Department of Social Protection to examine welfare records.

And the Data Protection Commissioner chastised Westwood Swimming Ltd after it was said to have improperly used CCTV camera to monitor employees without their knowledge.

For more in this special investigation, click here.


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