Data Protection Commissioner to decide over INM breach inquiry

ODCE is examining conduct of INM board in relation to handling of a protected disclosure

It was reported over the weekend that a company connected with Denis O’Brien, above, who owns just under 30 per cent of INM, paid the bill for an external IT group given access to INM’s computer networks. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

It was reported over the weekend that a company connected with Denis O’Brien, above, who owns just under 30 per cent of INM, paid the bill for an external IT group given access to INM’s computer networks. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Data Protection Commissioner says it will decide in coming days whether an investigation is required into an alleged data breach at Independent News & Media (INM).

It follows reports about a decision by the Office for the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) to investigate a protected disclosure at the company and an alleged data breach at INM dating back to 2014.

The ODCE is examining the conduct of INM’s board in relation to its handling of a protected disclosure by former chief executive Robert Pitt in 2016.

It was reported over the weekend that an Isle of Man company connected with Denis O’Brien, who owns just under 30 per cent of INM, paid the bill for an external IT group that was given access to INM’s computer networks.

These issues feature in an affidavit of more than 200 pages filed by Ian Drennan, the head of the ODCE, with the High Court.

A spokesman for the Data Protection Commissioner said last night that the office “will assess the information that has been widely reported over the past few days to immediately scope if an investigation is required”.

He added: “We intend on establishing some baseline facts and what the basic parameters of the issues are and will respond accordingly.”

Séamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said “the Data Protection Commissioner must initiate an immediate investigation into this matter” as “it now appears that previous assurances given to the commissioner by INM were based on incomplete information”.

‘Unambiguous explanation’

It was “imperative that INM issue an unambiguous explanation to employees about what has happened and why their data appears to have been put at risk”, he said.

The NUJ would “be seeking a meeting with the company and will be offering assistance to members who are concerned that their rights may have been breached”, he said.

Press Ombudsman Peter Feeney described the situation as “very serious for journalism”.

Protection of sources was “vital” when it came to holding power to account – journalists “couldn’t do their job otherwise,” he said. Such protection was “recognised in courts around the world and is universally regarded as critically important”, he said.

Third party Former editor of the Sunday Independent Anne Harris told The Irish Times she was assured by INM last December that her concerns about whether data about her had been shared with a third party were groundless.

Arising from media reports that there had been a major data breach at the company she made a formal request to INM inquiring as to whether this had included data about her.

She said the company replied saying it was aware of the media reports which had given rise to Ms Harris’s concerns and wished to clarify that the Data Protection Commissioner had recorded the incident as a non-breach of data protection. It said were this situation to change it would notify the individuals concerned in accordance with its obligations, Ms Harris added.

No comment was available from INM yesterday.

The ODCE’s application to have the inspectors appointed will be heard by the High Court on April 16th.

INM is expected to appoint a senior counsel this week to represent it in the ODCE’s High Court application. It will also establish a two- or three-person subcommittee of its board to oversee its handling of the ODCE’s investigation.