Monday, 24 November 2014

Private investigator fined €5,000 for accessing Garda data

Irish Times 24th November 2014

A private investigator have been convicted on two charges of illegally obtaining information from the Garda Pulse system.

Michael J Gaynor, trading as MJG Investigations, Beatty Grove, Celbridge, Co Kildare, was before Dublin District Court facing a prosecution by the Data Protection Commissioner.

Mr Gaynor (62) faced three charges of illegally accessing personal information held by An Garda Síochána and of disclosing it without authority, under the provisions of section 22 (1) of the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003.

He was convicted on two of those charges and fined €2,500 for each offence.

Judge John O’Neill said that in his view Mr Gaynor had not given convincing evidence of why he was contacting a serving garda.

Mr Gaynor pleaded guilty to 69 other charges but pleads not guilty on the three related to accessing the Garda information.

Remy Farrell SC for the Data Protection Commissioner told the court Mr Gaynor had allegedly provided tracing reports to three credit unions - in Balbriggan, Lucan and Citybus Credit Union - on individuals they hoped to take action against for non-payment of debts.

He had allegedly obtained the information from Detective Garda Paul Cullen, a member of the Garda National Immigration Bureau, who had “little cause to be accessing information” on the three individuals concerned.

Assistant data protection commissioner Tony Delaney told the court that in an interview with Det Garda Cullen at the GNIB headquarters on March 18th 2014, the garda had admitted accessing all the records on the individuals concerned.

After questioning Det Garda Cullen for several minutes in the witness box, Mr Farrell made an application to have him treated as a hostile witness.

The detective contended Mr Gaynor, with whom had served as a garda for about 20 years, was in fact an “informal informant” who would telephone him from time to time with information about individuals who may be “of interest” to An Garda Síochána.

He said he may have “inadvertently” disclosed information to Mr Gaynor after the private detective contacted him in this context, but that he never provided information directly from the screen in front of him when logged into either the Pulse or GNIB databases.

Mr Cullen said that when Mr Gaynor had given him a name, an address or a car number, he would immediately check them on one of the systems available to him.

“He was offering me information,” the garda said.

He said he did not confirm any information to the private detective other than to tell him it was “not of interest to the gardaí”.

Mr Farrell asked at one stage why Mr Gaynor would be passing information on individuals to Mr Cullen and whether they were perhaps members of “al-Qaeda”.

Judge John O’Neill said he had “no difficulty” in having Mr Cullen treated as a hostile witness and said he agreed with prosecuting counsel that the detective was “playing with words”.