A Dublin-based private investigation company has been fined and prosecuted for passing personal data, obtained from the systems of the Department of Social Protection and the garda PULSE system, to insurance companies.
The cases against Eamon O'Mordha and Company Ltd, and its two directors Eamon O'Mordha and Ann O'Mordha, were taken by the Data Protection Commissioner.
The Dublin District Court heard that a friend of the couple who worked in the Department of Social Protection was accessing records and passing information to Ms O'Mordha, whom she would meet socially.
Two of Ms O'Mordha's nephews, brothers who are both gardaí, were accessing the garda PULSE system and passing information on to her.
Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney told the court that his investigation concluded that the company had breached the Data Protection Act by accessing the information, without the knowledge of An Garda Síochána and the Department of Social Protection, and providing it to a third party.
One of the charges related to the surveillance of a widow, whose husband was killed in a workplace accident.
The private investigation company obtained details about her and her children from the Department of Social Protection data system and passed them on to an insurance company.
The Data Protection Commission was "entirely satisfied" that information about a vehicle seen at her house came from the garda PULSE system.
Mr Delaney told the court this access to the garda and social welfare systems was "a pattern".
The company and Ms O'Mordha pleaded guilty to 12 charges each.
The charges against Mr O'Mordha were dropped.
The judge said it was "utterly reprehensible" that confidential information was accessed and "quite shocking" that such information was handed over from sources in an Garda Síochána and the Department of Social Protection, in breach of the law.
The company and Ms O'Mordha were each fined €10,000, to be paid within six months.
Speaking after today's proceedings, Mr Delaney said: "The significant fines imposed today demonstrate the seriousness of the matters that were before the Court. This office is currently investing considerable resources into detecting, investigating and prosecuting those private investigators who breach the Data Protection Acts."
He also said "these prosecutions also serve as a reminder to staff across all areas of the public service that the information databases that are available to them for their official duties should not be used by them to access records on foot of requests from family members, friends or other acquaintances and that any such unauthorised accessing of State databases can have serious consequences".