Data protection warnings over Pulse system access

Data protection bosses have issued strong warnings to credit unions, the ESB and members of the Garda Síochána following the prosecution of a private investigator for breaching data laws.

Michael J Gaynor, now trading as MJG Investigations, from Beatty Grove, Celbridge, Co Kildare, was fined €5,000 after he obtained personal private information from an ESB employee and a garda as part of work he was doing for four credit unions.

Mr Gaynor, a former garda with 35 years experience, was hired to track down bad debtors who were in arrears with their loans.

Father-of-two Gaynor, aged 62, was prosecuted at the Dublin District Court on Monday following an investigation by the office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

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

However, he pleaded guilty to 69 charges under the Data Protection Act of unlawfully obtaining and processing personal data on a number of individuals from a source in the ESB last year. Assistant data protection commissioner Tony Delaney said the credit unions took the information Mr Gaynor gave them without question. He said it was obvious the information came from an electricity account.

“They just took the information merrily,” Mr Delaney told Morning Ireland.

He said he expected credit unions to improve their work on data protection, noting this was the second prosecution in two months.

“I’ve set down very stringent requirements for the future in relation to how they are going to deal with private investigators and tracing agents,” he said. “Certainly, the issue of passing on dates of birth, PPS numbers and so on that we’ve found in these last two cases, that day is over as far as the credit union sector is concerned because lessons have to be learned.”

He said he had written to all credit unions affected by the last two prosecutions.

He added: “There will be a big sea change. It will not be business as usual in this sector and we’re keeping a very close, watchful eye.”

Mr Delaney said they were “very disappointed” at how information was getting out from ESB databases. “That included bank account details and details of where and when a person paid their ESB account,” he said. “The private investigator was effectively a staff member, because a staff member was looking up information for him and calling it out over the phone.”

He said the garda in question, Det Garda Paul Cullen of GNIB had been disciplined internally and had been summoned to court and subjected to a difficult experience in the witness box.

He said the garda was “criticised openly” by the judge, saying it wasn’t “a pleasant place for any serving garda to find himself”.


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