Cormac O’Keeffe answer key questions stemming from the Garda Commissioner’s use of her private email account. 

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Q&A: Key questions surrounding Nóirín O’Sullivan’s private email usage

Cormac O’Keeffe answer key questions stemming from the Garda Commissioner’s use of her private email account. 

Q&A: Key questions surrounding Nóirín O’Sullivan’s private email usage

Q. So, what’s the story with the Garda Commissioner having an email account?

A. It has emerged Nóirín O’Sullivan uses a private email account outside her Garda email. The Sunday Times reported that her Dropbox account, linked to her Gmail, was compromised in a hack in 2012, which stole millions of user names and passwords.

The newspaper said the commissioner had been using the Gmail account for at least four years “even though she worked in sensitive positions”, including operations, intelligence, and counterterrorism.

Q. So what?

A. Garda business is supposed to be conducted via the secure Garda email system, not on a commercial system. The allegations are that Ms O’Sullivan sent and received official correspondence, including documentation, on her Gmail account.

A Garda statement said its policy on email use is from 2012 and does not take into account advances in technology, such as the need for mobile devices to be associated with a commercial email address. The statement said it was standard procedure for all garda staff with mobile devices to have Gmail installed on their devices. This raises the question of what has been sent and received on these Gmail accounts.

Q. But gardaí have their own email. So why do they need a Gmail too?

A. One reason is related to the limitations of the Garda email to open and download attachments. In November 2015, the Garda Inspectorate noted that digital images and attachments, including photographs and videos, “cannot be sent within the Garda Siochana or externally”. It added: “Communications with partner criminal justice agencies are also sometimes limited, including investigation requests that are accompanied by file attachments, which cannot be opened due to firewalls and other IT restrictions.”

The Garda statement referred to the inspectorate report and said the commissioner used Gmail “due to restrictions with the Garda email system such as email size and storage”. It said she used Gmail to ensure Garda business was “discharged effectively”.

Q. So, what has the commissioner done wrong?

A. It’s not clear. It depends on what she sent on her Gmail and whether it ever included anything of a sensitive nature, in relation to criminal investigations, suspects, intelligence gathering or national security. We don’t have evidence of that.

The Garda statement said the commissioner was “well aware” of her obligations to protect national security and policing and “would under no circumstances all them to the compromised”. The statement added there was “no evidence” her systems had ever been compromised.

Q. Will any further light be thrown on this?

The Policing Authority is meeting the commissioner on Thursday, providing a possible opportunity for some degree of clarity. The Data Protection Commissioner and the Garda Ombudsman have so far declined to comment.

Q. Isn’t this the latest issue to hit the commissioner?

A. Yes it is. She is currently embroiled in a judicial inquiry regarding claims from garda whistleblowers that she knew about a campaign to undermine Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

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