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'Hundreds' of social welfare records in data protection breach

Three insurance companies admit to using a PI who illegally sourced data from within the Department of Social Protection.

A member of staff at the Department of Social Protection had a 'longstanding' arrangement with a private investigator about sharing private data, the DPC says.
A member of staff at the Department of Social Protection had a 'longstanding' arrangement with a private investigator about sharing private data, the DPC says.
Image: Julien Behal/PA Wire

THREE INSURANCE COMPANIES have pleaded guilty to breaches of Ireland’s data protection law, after using the services of a private investigator who illegally accessed information from within the Department of Social Protection.

FBD, Travellers and Zurich had used the services of an investigator which had sourced data from a member of staff within the Department.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner said the office had been first notified about a possible breach in December 2010.

An inspection of the investigator’s offices uncovered social welfare data, which was being passed on to the three insurers. This was later confirmed by other inspections at the premises of each insurer.

The data of hundreds of social welfare recipients was being inappropriately shared, the spokeswoman said, saying it appeared there had been a “longstanding arrangement” between the rogue member of Department staff and the private investigator.

TheJournal.ie understands that a Garda investigation is underway into how the individual Department employee accessed and shared the data with the investigator.

In a statement the Department said it took its responsibility under Data Protection legislation “very seriously”.

The Department said it “takes a very serious view of breaches of its information security policies and procedures which are subject to the provisions of the Civil Service Disciplinary Code.”

It added that it did not comment on individual cases.

The three insurers have agreed to donate €20,000 each to charity. The DPC said the three companies had co-operated fully with their inquiries.

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