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Irish Independent editor 'concerned' that journalists' data may have been compromised at INM

There are now fears that journalists’ protected sources could have been compromised.

Independent House on Talbot Street.
Independent House on Talbot Street.
Image: Leah Farrell

Updated 3pm

THE NATIONAL UNION of Journalists has said it is gravely concerned at the serious claims made by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement in relation to breaches of the data protection rights of employees of Independent News and Media (INM)

The Editor-in-Chief of the Irish Independent has also said he is concerned that data of journalists working for INM may have been accessed without their knowledge.

In a statement to his own newspaper this morning, Stephen Rae said that the company will investigate if any data has been compromised.

The Sunday Times reports today that a firm controlled by Denis O’Brien paid the bill for a tech company which was given access to the IT system at INM. O’Brien is the largest shareholder at INM.

The Times as well as the Independent are this morning reporting that the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) has claimed that INM’s IT system backups were removed from the firm and brought outside the jurisdiction where they were subjected to “interrogation” from another firm.

The claims were made in a sworn affidavit to the High Court.

There are now fears that journalists’ protected sources could have been compromised by this data interrogation.

In his statement this morning, Rae said: “We have always invoked a strict protection or ‘firewall approach’ to both our journalists’ research and sources to maintain the integrity of our journalism.

We will look seriously at this new information to see what data, if any, may have been involved during this reported event in 2014.

In a statement this afternoon, the Irish Secretary of the NUJ, Séamus Dooley, repeated his calls for the company to publicly clarify the extent to which the personal data of staff, including the confidential records of journalists, were compromised by the removal of the company IT system backup tapes from the company’s premises in Dublin to a location outside the state.

“Every employer has a legal obligation to protect personnel record. It is imperative that INM issue an unambiguous explanation to employees about what has happened and why their data appears to have been put at risk,” said Dooley, adding:

Clear lines appear to have been crossed and it is in the long-term interest of the company and of Irish journalism that this matter is addressed as a matter of urgency.

Dooley called on the Data Protection Commissioner to initiate an immediate investigation into the matter, separate from the proposed ODCE investigation.

The ODCE has been investigating corporate governance at the media group and is to apply to the High Court next month to have the inspectors appointed.

Former INM CEO Robert Pitt made a protected disclosure which sparked the probe.

He and former INM chairman Leslie Buckley, who stepped down from his post at the start of the month, had a falling out over a proposal to buy the Newstalk radio station.

The company is taking legal advice on whether the High Court has sufficient grounds to make the appointment of the inspectors.

In addition to the Independent titles and the Herald, INM also publishes the Sunday World, Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Life and The Star – as well as regional papers like the Drogheda Independent, Wexford People and The Kerryman.

Read: ODCE seeks inspectors to probe claims at Independent News & Media >

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