Credit Union investigator fined €5k over data breach
A PRIVATE investigator has been fined €5,000 after he was convicted of breaking data protection laws by obtaining private personal information held by gardai and the ESB.
Judge John O'Neill heard that credit unions hired the services of former garda Michael J Gaynor, now trading as MJG Investigations, from Beatty Grove, Celbridge, Co. Kildare, to track down bad debtors who were in arrears with their loans.
He then provided them with "trace reports" to assist them locate debtors for the purpose of initiating legal proceedings.
Fining Gaynor, the judge said, "I can understand how credit unions and financial institutions might need services in tracking down somebody, but enquiries must be kept within the law."
In addition to the fine, the private investigator must pay about €5,000 in costs.
His trace reports on two people were submitted to credit union clients within days of those individuals' files being accessed on the Garda Pulse computer system.
Judge O'Neill described 62-year-old Gaynor as unconvincing and evasive in his claims that he had only contacted a former Garda colleague to give him information which gardai may find useful.
Father-of-two Gaynor was prosecuted at the Dublin District Court following an investigation by the office of the Data Protection Commissioner.
The private investigator had contested charges involving obtaining data from the Garda Pulse system and Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) computer records, in 2013.
However, he pleaded guilty to 69 charges under the Data Protection Act for unlawfully obtaining and processing personal data on a number of individuals from a source in the ESB last year.
Tony Delaney, Assistant Data Protection Commissioner, said the former garda used subterfuge to get that information, which included details on when, how and where ESB bills were paid. The ESB source had assisted Gaynor in legitimate garda inquiries since the 1990s but had not been told that Gaynor had retired in 2005 and only found out seven years later, Mr Delaney said.
Judge O'Neill heard evidence from Detective Paul Cullen of the GNIB, who repeatedly denied passing on data to his friend and former colleague.
He claimed Gaynor phoned him at work to give him information on people because Gaynor thought they may be of interest to gardai.
Det Gda Cullen was made a hostile witness during the hearing yesterday and in court he admitted that he has been the subject of internal disciplinary proceedings. Judge O'Neill said, "I do not find Det Gda Cullen to be a credible witness in any way."
Computer analysis showed that, Det Gda Cullen had accessed computer files in relation to individuals being investigated by the private investigator.
Gaynor told his barrister, Justin McQuade, that he had been a garda for 35 years and had worked in detective units for 30 years. He said that he felt that some of the people he was tracing for the credit unions may also be of interest to gardai.
Judge O'Neill convicted Gaynor and imposed fines totalling €5,000, which have to be paid within six months or he will be jailed for 28 days.