INM announces plan to protect journalists’ data

New governance code due as Fianna Fáil leader calls for protection of media sources

Responding to the controversy in INM, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin says the protection of journalists’ sources needs legal protection. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Responding to the controversy in INM, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin says the protection of journalists’ sources needs legal protection. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Independent News and Media has announced new measures to boost the security of its journalists’ emails, telephones and other information arising from the disclosures of recent weeks about a data breach at the media organisation.

It comes as the leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin, has said a new law is needed to provide for the comprehensive protection of journalists’ sources.

There has been widespread concern that the breach, which INM has said was not officially authorised, may have compromised confidential information about sources, held on the computer system used by Independent journalists.

An application from the Director of Corporate Enforcement, Ian Drennan, to appoint inspectors to the group is due to come before the President of the High Court, Peter Kelly, on Monday.

One of the matters Mr Drennan wants investigated is the purpose behind the apparent breach.

In his affidavit, which has not yet been opened in court, Mr Drennan said work relating to the apparent data breach was paid for by a company owned by INM’s largest shareholder, Denis O’Brien.

The Independent group publishes the Irish and Sunday Independent, the Evening Herald, other newspaper titles and a news website.

The company has said that a data breach in October 2014 which apparently led to data from the group’s server coming into the hands of third parties, was directed by the then INM chairman, Leslie Buckley. Mr Buckley is a close business associate of Mr O’Brien.

In a circular to staff INM editor in chief Stephen Rae said that following discussions with the National Union of Journalists, a new “governance code” was to be introduced for newsroom data management.

“This ‘Triple Lock’ Code sets out safeguards for editorial data and requirements for authorisation to access systems at Independent News & Media,” he said.

The operation of this “Triple Lock” will function for email, phone, desktop and the content management system, he said. It will pertain to all internal data created and information received from external sources.

“The confidentiality of sources and journalistic information is of fundamental importance to Independent Newspapers and the Sunday World,” he said.

An external company is to be appointed to examine IT governance at the group and an executive has been tasked with dealing with members of the public who have concerns about their data.

Mr Martin told The Irish Times that in the digital age with the centralised recording and storage of data, protecting journalists’ sources becomes more problematic and difficult.

“The data can be vulnerable to third party interference, from commercial interests, or the state. It needs to be specifically protected.”

The legislation would give protection to a specific class of data related to journalists’ work, making it a criminal offence to access the data without authorisation.

He said this was a general principal, not just related to the Independent case, though he acknowledged that that there were serious concerns about the protection of journalists sources at the publisher following recent reports.