DPC gains access to documents relating to alleged data breach at INM

Several other parties have also been granted access to documents by the High Court


The Data Protection Commissioner has secured access to documents relating to an alleged data breach at Independent News & Media.

The documents were provided to the Commissioner from material filed for the separate application by the State’s corporate watchdog to have inspectors appointed to INM.

That application by Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) Ian Drennan will be heard by the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, next week.

Various orders have been made to date on consent of the sides giving several parties access to documents for the hearing.

Those parties include the Central Bank and the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) as well as people concerned their data may have been accessed when data was allegedly moved off site from INM over a period from October 2014.

In another pre-trial application on Friday, David Fennelly BL, for the DPC, said he wanted orders permitting the Commissioner use documents that have, or will be, provided to her, in her continuing probe into the alleged data breach.

The purpose of giving the material was to assist her in exercising her statutory functions, he said.

The DPC wanted the court to vary her undertaking not to use the material except for the purpose of the ODCE proceedings, he added.

Bairbre O’Neill BL, for INM, and Neil Steen SC for the ODCE, said they were consenting to the orders sought.

Wider use

Mr Justice Kelly said the DPC had served a formal notice of investigation into matters at INM and wanted leave to use materials in that probe which had, and may be, provided to her in these proceedings.

He said this application was necessary because the material provided to her to date was provided on the basis it was to be used only in the context of these proceedings.

The Commissioner has obligations within her remit and wants to use materials in the context of her own investigation, he said.

Noting both INM and the ODCE were consenting to the application, he said he would make the orders sought on consent.

The application for inspectors follows a year long investigation by the ODCE into certain issues at INM.

That investigation was prompted by protected disclosures made on dates in 2016 and 2017 by former INM CEO Robert Pitt and INM Chief Financial Officer Ryan Preston.

Range of issues

Mr Drennan said he wanted inspectors to investigate a range of issues including an alleged data breach at INM over some months from October 2014; a proposed purchase by INM of Newstalk Radio from Communicorp, a company of INM’s major shareholder, Denis O’Brien; and a proposed fee payment by INM to Island Capital, a company also linked to Mr O’Brien. Neither the purchase nor payment proceeded.

Mr Drennan said the range of “potentially unlawful conduct” that may have taken place within INM is “extensive” and an inspectors’ investigation was necessary for reasons including to establish whether journalists emails or other data was accessed over a period from October 2014, by whom, for what purpose, and whether Mr O’Brien benefited from that.

INM is strongly opposing the application, arguing it is unnecessary for reasons including the DPC probe is underway.

INM maintains it has a very high standard of corporate governance and appointment of inspectors would be very damaging for its reputation and finances.