Tapes linked to suspected INM data breach destroyed
Move in preparation for data protection laws due to be introduced, says company director
The Director of Corporate Enforcement is seeking to have High Court inspectors appointed to INM to investigate several matters associated with the media group. Photograph: Dara MacDónaill/The Irish Times
Back-up tapes associated with the suspected data breach at Independent News & Media (INM) were destroyed in February of this year, according to a court document.
Director of Corporate Enforcement Ian Drennan is seeking to have High Court inspectors appointed to INM to investigate several matters associated with the media group, including the apparent data breach in 2014.
The breach apparently occurred as a result of instructions issued by the then company chairman Leslie Buckley. And the work was paid for by a firm owned by the largest shareholder in INM, businessman Denis O’Brien.
Mr Buckley is a long-time associate of Mr O’Brien’s and was his nominee on the board. Mr Buckley resigned at the end of March of this year.
In an affidavit filed with the High Court on behalf of the company as part of its opposition to the appointment of inspectors, seen by The Irish Times, non-executive company director Dr Len O’Hagan said the back-up tapes were decommissioned and destroyed as part of INM housekeeping in preparation for new data protection laws due to be introduced.
Destruction of the tapes occurred just weeks before Mr Drennan made his application to the High Court for the appointment of inspectors.
It was only at that stage, said Dr O’Hagan, that the company learned that Mr Drennan’s office had information indicating that data from the INM computer system may have been examined for purposes other than those declared to the company.
If the information then known to Mr Drennan’s office had been given to INM at the time the tapes were being destroyed, the media group would have “ring-fenced” the relevant ones from the destruction process, said Dr O’Hagan.
Mr Drennan’s office had not indicated to the media group, he said, that it should take any steps to preserve the material, in the period before Mr Drennan’s court application on March 23rd.
In the affidavit grounding his application, Mr Drennan outlined evidence he said his office had collected which showed the data was removed from INM and “interrogated”, with the names of certain persons of interest searched for. These included two barristers who had worked for the Moriarty tribunal, which investigated the 1995 mobile phone licence competition which was won by Mr O’Brien’s Esat Digifone, as well as the names of a number of journalists and former executives at INM.
Mr Buckley told Mr Drennan that the data was searched on his instructions for information concerning a services contract at the company as part of a cost-cutting exercise he, Mr Buckley, was conducting. The bill for the work was not then charged to the company, he said, because nothing of use was found.
Dr O’Hagan, in his affidavit, said he had been informed by the INM information technology department that the back-up tapes would have been overwritten on a number of occasions since 2014, in the ordinary course of business. It was not clear, he said, whether the tapes would have contained any useful information at this stage.
Mr Buckley has said he will defend himself against all allegations made against him by Mr Drennan’s office.
The media group is seeking a judicial review of Mr Drennan’s application. The review application, and if it is granted the review itself, are scheduled to be heard on May 9th.