‘No basis’ for whistleblowers to keep trawling Garda data

The two garda whistle-blowers had “no basis” for continuing to trawl Garda computer data and disclosing it outside the force once they had reported their allegations of malpractice, the State’s data watchdog has said.

‘No basis’ for whistleblowers to keep trawling Garda data

Billy Hawkes said Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan had a legal duty to prevent “wholesale” access to, and dissemination of, PULSE data once the allegations had been made.

The intervention of the Data Protection Commissioner has provided backing to Mr Callinan, who has come under pressure from ministers to withdraw “disgusting” remarks he made in relation to the whistleblowers at an Oireachtas committee last January.

Mr Hawkes made his comments after gardaí published an audit conducted by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner into the management of personal data on the PULSE system.

“While the audit team was generally satisfied with the in-built data protection mechanisms in PULSE, this was not the case in relation to the oversight of access by individual AGS [An Garda Síochána] members to records of individuals and the related risk of disclosure outside of AGS,” the report said.

“The team came across disturbing instances of such improper access and found that scheduled audits of accesses to PULSE, as provided for in the AGS data protection code of practice, had not been carried out.”

Mr Hawkes said gardaí had addressed the problem, taking disciplinary action against members, issuing guidelines, and undertaking audits.

Mr Hawkes also criticised the whistleblowers, Sergeant Maurice McCabe and retired garda John Wilson.

“We fully acknowledge that under the Garda Act there is a right, indeed a duty, to report corruption or malpractice if somebody comes across it,” he said.

“But essentially when that report had been made and an investigation was being carried out, as far as we’re concerned it was the duty of the commissioner to prevent wholescale access to garda information and even more so wholesale disclosure of it outside the force.”

He told RTÉ radio: “I have a duty to support the commissioner when he took the position that once whistleblowers had discharged, if you like, their moral duty to report malpractice within An Gardaí, then there was not a basis for them for continuing to access the PULSE system, less so for disclosing confidential information about people to third parties..”

Mr Callinan said the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner “is right to be concerned about any improper access to PULSE by any member of An Garda Síochána and the related risk of the disclosure of highly sensitive personal data outside of the organisation.

“As An Garda Síochána’s data controller, I share

these concerns and I have expressed my disquiet about this publicly on several occasions.”

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