The Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) will investigate whether personal data was accessed in the alleged data breach at Independent News and Media (INM).
In a statement, the DPC said it will examine if data was processed in accordance with data protection legislation. It said it was establishing the parameters of the investigation, including seeking additional information from INM on foot of the breach notification it filed with the office last week.
The intervention comes as current and former staff at INM are seeking legal advice after learning about a breach at the company involving their personal data.
It emerged yesterday that a number of high-profile journalists, including Sunday Independent deputy editor Brendan O’Connor, ex-Independent journalist Sam Smyth, and Sunday Independent investigative journalist Maeve Sheehan, are among a group of 19 individuals whose data and information was accessed on INM’s internal systems in 2014.
Also on the list, detailed in a High Court affidavit prepared by the Director of Corporate Enforcement, Ian Drennan, are INM’s former director of corporate affairs Karl Brophy, former CEO Vincent Crowley, former finance director Donal Buggy, and former CEO of its Irish division Joe Webb.
Two barristers, Jacqueline O’Brien and Jerry Healy, who worked on the Moriarty Tribunal, are also on the list.
Mr Drennan has asked the High Court to appoint inspectors to INM to investigate the breach. The case is due to be heard on April 16.
According to reports in the Irish Independent, the alleged data breach occurred in October 2014, when Mr Drennan alleges data was removed from the company’s premises, taken out of the jurisdiction and “interrogated” by at least six companies external to the group.
In light of the revelations, INM has moved to reassure staff, telling them their welfare is the company’s primary concern. Editor-in-chief Stephen Rae said individuals whose data had been breached had been informed.
However, Mr Brophy said he only learned his name was the list when he read about it in yesterday’s Irish Independent. Mr Smyth also said he only became aware when he also read it in the newspaper.
Mr Brophy confirmed on Twitter that he is seeking legal advice and said he expected others to follow suit.
Mr Smyth accused the Government of ducking the controversy, saying its agencies have failed to do what they are meant to do and protect citizens.
He said he sees no difference between what had happened to him over his emails having been hacked while working as a journalist and the telephone hacking case that led to the Leveson Inquiry in the UK.
Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One programme, National Union of Journalists secretary Seamus Dooley said the entire incident “stinks to high heaven”.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is our Leveson moment,” he said. “Journalists are obliged to protect confidential sources of information and of course normally when we associate protecting sources, we identify the threat as being external. What is alleged here is that the threat came internally, and that makes it all the more serious.”
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