Leaking of people's private data 'custom and practice' for some civil servants, court told

Leaking Of People's Private Data 'Custom And Practice' For Some Civil Servants, Court Told
Staff made checks on celebrities, a major lotto winner and a missing person, the court was told. Photo: PA
Share this article

Ray Managh

Leaking of people’s private data information by some staff members of the Department of Social Protection was “custom and practice” from 2010 to 2016 in local area offices, a judge in the Circuit Civil Court was told today.

Judge Michael Walsh heard that a manager in the Artane branch of the AIB used to ring the Kilbarrack office of the Department to check customer’s PPS numbers.


Checks had also been made on celebrities, a major lotto winner and a missing person.

The shock disclosures were revealed in evidence on Thursday by former civil servant Susan Lillis who was sacked by the department eight years ago for having disclosed personal information to private investigator, James Cowley, a personal friend of her husband, about a Co Meath nurse.

Barrister Andrew Whelan, who appeared with Monahan Solicitors for Aisling Farrell, of Teaguestown, Dublin Road, Trim, told Judge Walsh that the 37-year-old nurse was suing the Department and its former employee Ms Lillis, of Corrstown, Kilsallaghan, Co Dublin, for breach of privacy and her data protection rights by disclosing the nurse’s former address to Cowley.

Jason Murray, counsel for Ms Lillis, and barrister Mark Finan, representing the Department, denied liability on behalf of their clients and claimed that Ms Farrell should be suing Cowley, a former member of the British army and employee of a security firm before he launched his own private investigation business.


Mr Murray, who appeared with Drumgoole Solicitors, said Ms Lillis’s defence was that she had acted within the customs and practice culture that had existed in local offices. Ms Lillis told the court that when approached by Department investigation staff she had put her hands up immediately with regard to her actions.

Cowley, of Brookdale Lawns, Rivervalley, Swords, Co Dublin, pleaded guilty in June 2016 to 13 charges of unlawfully obtaining access to personal data and disclosing it to third parties and was fined €4,000.

Criminal and civil courts have been told Cowley was hired for investigation purposes by Permanent TSB, Zurich, Alliance, the State Claims Agency and other insurance companies.

Farrell told the court she had been frightened and lived in fear about people following her after having been informed by the Department itself that they had breached her data protection rights. The letter had included an apology from the Department.


Mr Whelan said Ms Farrell had been involved in a car accident in January 2015 and had sued the other driver Sharon Sweeney’s insurer, Allianz. Following that case she had received a letter from the Department of Social Protection informing her of a data security breach in that Cowley, who had been engaged by Allianz, had received her former address, that of her parents, from Ms Lillis.

Ms Farrell said she could not believe the Department would give out her information and she lost confidence in the State body.

She had become very nervous when out and about and did not know if she was being followed all the time. To this day she had never received her personal information file or an explanation of what had happened.

When Mr Finan, who appeared with the Chief State Solicitor Maria Browne, put it to her she had not suffered any loss or damage she repeated her claims of fear and nervousness.


Ms Lillis told the court the manager of the Artane branch of AIB would ring the Kilbarrack office to check on PPS numbers. It was custom and practice to help people.

She had not dealt with any inquiries about the lottery winner but had seen it on other staff computers.

“I put my hands up in relation to what I was doing,” she said. She had not given detailed information to the subsequent Department investigation because of her loyalty to other staff members.

Defence witnesses denied that breaches had ocurred “willy nilly” and outlined significant security policies that had been in place. Only about two or three breaches had occurred.

Mr Finan said the State took the matter very seriously and stressed the importance of maintaining public confidence in the Department.

The case was adjourned to facilitate legal submissions by all parties.

Read More

Message submitting... Thank you for waiting.

Want us to email you top stories each lunch time?

Download our Apps
© BreakingNews.ie 2024, developed by Square1 and powered by PublisherPlus.com