Data – Protection Case
Welfare official accessed ex’s data
Mark Tighe Published: 17 March 2013
A senior Department of Social Protection official abused her access to the department’s database by spying on her ex-husband’s account during divorce proceedings.
The man, a former senior manager in a multinational IT firm based in Ireland, made an official
complaint to the department and Data Protection Commissioner last year. They upheld his
complaint and found his ex-wife accessed his social welfare file without any business reason 12 times between 2004 and 2009. The executive said he now plans to sue the department for
breaching his privacy rights.
“I can’t imagine what information she had access to or how that would have given her an
advantage,” said the man, who did not wish to be named. “But as in every negotiation, the more information that you have, the better prepared you are.”
He said his former wife’s access to his social welfare file meant they did not have a “level playing field” in their divorce proceedings, which moved from the Circuit Court to the High Court.
The man said he knew his ex-wife was accessing his personal records but waited until his youngest child was over 21 before making a complaint last year. He believes she also accessed the files of family members including one who is an elected local authority official.
An official report from the department said the woman, a higher executive officer, would face
disciplinary action that could lead to dismissal.
“I think that historically inappropriate accesses of personal records was a way of life in the civil service and that the management in the civil service have a lot to do to change that culture,” said the man. He praised the business risk unit in the department, which he said had been diligent and professional in investigating his complaint.
The department said it would not comment on ongoing cases. It has 7,000 employees and more than ym datasets on its systems.
“Every effort is made to ensure that personal customer data is used solely for business purposes and is not compromised in any way,” the department said.
Last year it found three substantiated cases of inappropriate access to its databases. Two staff have had salary reductions while the other case is still under investigation.