Civil servant sold welfare data to private investigators

A civil servant at the Department of Social Protection has been jailed for a year. He was caught selling the personal details of hundreds of people to private investigators probing insurance claims.

The Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) described the actions of Rory Lenihan, a 50-year-old father-of-five, as shocking and said his sentence was a warning to other employees with access to personal data that misusing it has severe consequences.

Mr Lenihan, from Ballaghderg, Letterkenny, received €22,000 in corrupt payments from private investigators, over a three-year period, while he was based at the Department of Social Protection offices in Co Donegal.

Mr Lenihan pleaded guilty to 12 sample charges of receiving payments, in exchange for information, and was yesterday sentenced to two years on each charge, the terms to run concurrently, with the second year to be suspended.

Tony Delaney, assistant data-protection commissioner, welcomed the outcome of the case, which was linked to a DPC investigation of three insurance companies, following a tip-off from the Department of Social Protection.

Zurich, FBD, and Travelers Insurance were successfully prosecuted in 2012 for using information improperly obtained by private investigators.

Tracking the information back, the DPC found it had been disclosed by Mr Lenihan.

Letterkenny Circuit Court heard evidence, earlier this week, that the defendant, a clerical officer in the treatments benefits section, stayed behind during his lunch break to access details and to make phone calls.

He was paid €23 for information on each person and the money was paid periodically, in lump sums, to his bank account in Donegal town. He earned €21,898 in this way, between January, 2008 and October, 2010.

In September, 2010, his supervisor, Paul Bradley, became suspicious of his behaviour and an internal investigation was launched. The computer system in use in the office recorded the files he had accessed and these were cross-referenced with phone calls he had made. The breaches were revealed.

He admitted what he had done, when confronted.

The court heard he was in financial difficulties at the time of the offences, had no previous convictions, and had lost his marriage and reputation, as a result of his actions. But Mr Delaney said there was no excuse. “This case stands out as one of the most serious data breaches ever uncovered in this State,” he said.

“That a civil servant, who had ready access, for the performance of his official duties, to the social welfare records of every customer of the Department, abused his position and trawled through those records, and passed on personal information from them to private investigators, in exchange for corrupt payments, is scandalous and appalling. Today’s court outcome should serve as a very clear warning to employees in all sectors,” he said.


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