Hawkes backs criticism of whistleblowers data leaks

Data Protection Commissioner says gardaí have a duty to prevent ‘wholesale access’ to Pulse data

The Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes has backed Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in his criticism of two garda whistleblowers who accessed confidential information on the cancellation of penalty points. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

The Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes has backed Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in his criticism of two garda whistleblowers who accessed confidential information on the cancellation of penalty points. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 15:27

The Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes has backed Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in his criticism of two garda whistleblowers who accessed confidential information on the cancellation of penalty points.

Mr Hawkes said Sgt Maurice McCabe and retired garda John Wilson had a “moral duty” to report wrongdoing but there should not have been “continued access” and disclosure of data from the Garda Pulse system after they had alerted the authorities .

He was speaking today as a new audit was published on the Garda’s compliance with the Data Protection Act. The audit identified “a strong organisational awareness of data protection principles generally” after some years in which Mr Hawkes had criticised gardaí for the inappropriate access of data.

Mr Hawkes said Mr Callinan had a duty to ensure disclosure of data was done strictly in accordance with the Data Protection Act “so naturally we had to support the Commissioner” in his criticism of the way in which certain personal information about penalty points cancellations entered the public domain.

“We fully acknowledge that under the Garda Acts there is a right, indeed a duty, to report corruption or malpractice if somebody comes across it,” Mr Hawkes told RTÉ Radio. “But essentially when that report had been made and an investigation was being carried out as far as we are concerned it was the duty of the Commissioner to prevent wholesale access to garda information and even more so wholesale disclosure of it outside the force, once the duty to report under the whisleblowing provisions had been met.”

“Otherwise a whole new avenue would open for disclosure out of the Pulse system.”

Mr Hawkes said the whistleblowers were entitled under law to report wrongdoing to public representatives, and he had no issue with this but “we did in fact specifically support the commissioner’s position in relation to information being disclosed to the Public Accounts Committee.

“Having focused heavily not only in this report but also at our annual report last year on inappropriate access by gardai to data held on the pulse system, I had a duty to support the Commissioner when he took the position that once the whisteleblowers had discharged, if you like, their moral duty to report malpractice within an garda then there was not a basis for them continuing to access the pulse system and even less so for disclosing confidential information about people to third parties,” he said.

Mr Hawkes’ office has made no recommendation for sanctioning the two whistleblowers, although it had the power to recommend stronger actions to ensure compliance with the Data Protection Law if breaches continued, according to a spokeswoman.