Social Welfare Staff Who Leak Data Face Fines

Social welfare officials could face fines of up to €100,000 if found guilty of leaking information to private investigators working for insurance companies.

The practice came to light during audits of two insurance companies, which revealed they had access to private data that could only have come from welfare records.

Under the Data Protection Act, employees who pass on personal details of clients to others can face fines of up to €100,000 on conviction in the Circuit Court, or up to €3,000 if convicted in the District Court.

The Department of Social and Family Affairs confirmed that it had been made aware of the findings of the investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner.

“Abuse or misuse of personal information is a very serious issue.

“The information passed to us by the Data Protection Commissioner is being investigated as a matter of urgency.”

Although the department said it had taken strong disciplinary action against staff who misused customer information, it declined to provide further details on what penalties would be involved, or if staff would face prosecution.

Most of the department’s 4,000 employees have access to any individual’s social welfare and employment records on the grounds that it is essential to their work.

They have to use a password to gain access and a ‘digital footprint’ is left on the department’s computer system each time.