Tag Archives: Billy Hawkes


[ Data Protection Commissioner, Billy Hawkes in 2012]

The Garda sought advice from the Data Protection Commissioner on how to dispose of illegally obtained recordings of phone calls from Garda stations four days before Taoiseach Enda Kenny was informed of the practice. Mr Kenny told the Dáil on Tuesday that he was only informed on Sunday by Attorney General Máire Whelan of the widespread use of recordings and its attendant implications. However, following a query from The Irish Times yesterday, the office of Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes confirmed that it was contacted by the Garda Síochána on Wednesday March 19th in order to seek advice on the disposal of the recordings.


Gardaí sought advice on disposing recordings four days before Taoiseach was told of tapes (Irish Times)


A brief bugging timeline:

The recording of garda station phone calls first became public knowledge in June 2013 following the GSOC report into the arrest and assault of Anthony Holness, a report Justice Minister Alan Shatter says he wasn’t made aware of.

On November 11, 2013, Martin Callinan informed the Attorney General, Máire Whelan and a working group was established to report to him on the issue, according to Alan Shatter.

On November 25, 2013,  the High Court was reportedly told new material involving approximately 16,000 records, some electronic, had emerged in the course of the Ian Bailey action against former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan over allegations of wrongful arrest. Senior counsel Paul O’Higgins told the court fresh and unexpected material had emerged  in relation to matters such as phone traffic.  The court told the State to produce the material by March 25, 2014.

On November 27, 2013, Mr Callinan ordered the end of the recording of calls nationally and the Attorney General Máire Whelan was notified of this.

On March 10, 2014, Mr Callinan wrote to the Department of Justice General Secretary Brian Purcell informing him of the practice of recording telephone calls. The letter requested Mr Purcell to inform Minister Shatter.

On March 11, 2014, Mr Callinan, the AG Máire Whelan and members of the Department of Justice held a follow-up meeting on the matter, according to Alan Shatter [he told the Dáil this yesterday] Minister Shatter said he didn’t attend the meeting and that he wasn’t informed of the meeting before he left for Mexico for his St Patrick’s Day jaunt on March 15.

On Sunday, March 23, 2014, Ms Whelan informed Taoiseach Enda Kenny of the practice of recording phone calls. He rang her about something else and she said she had a matter to discuss with him but wouldn’t tell him what it concerned over the phone. She later told him that evening.

On Monday, March 24, 2014, Mr Kenny and the AG informed Minister Shatter of the practice of recording phone conversations at Garda stations.

On Tuesday morning, March 25, 2014, just before the Cabinet meeting, Mr Callinan resigned. Several hours later, according to Mr Shatter’s statement to the Dáil yesterday, he received the March 10 letter from Mr Callinan.


Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

[Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes at the Institute of International European Affairs’ Cybersecurity conference at the Manison House in Dublin last November]

Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes spoke to Richard Crowley on RTÉ News at One, following the publication of his office’s audit of data protection in An Garda Síochána from 2011 to October 2013.

Specifically, Mr Hawkes told how, during his investigation, he found incidences whereby members of Gardaí – not the whistleblowers Sgt Maurice McCabe and former Garda John Wilson – accessed the Garda profiles of certain ‘RTÉ celebrities’, passed on information to private investigators and also accessed information in the Department of Social Protection.

Richard Crowley: “This report has just been published, it’s rather long. We haven’t even seen the executive summary, so maybe you could do the job for us and tell us what are your main findings?”

Billy Hawkes: “Well the main findings are that An Gardaí are treating personal data as you would expect a professional police force to do so. They have responded to points, weaknesses we pointed out, particularly inappropriate access by members of the force to data and, even worse, disclosure of it, outside of the force. But it’s quite a comprehensive report, it goes through things like how they deal with CCTV, how they deal with suspects, the system of Garda vetting, how that works, so it’s essentially a comprehensive look at all aspects of how An Garda Síochána carry out their duties because, again, obviously personal data is the lifeblood of An Garda Síochána but it’s particularly important that how they handle it respects all of our rights in relation to the data that they hold, so that was a particular focus of it – that basically that we should be satisfied and everybody else should be satisfied that when they give information to An Garda Síochána, whether voluntarily or compulsory, that we should all be satisfied it would be guarded carefully. Only those who have needed to do so would have access to it and particularly won’t be disclosed outside the force.”

Crowley: “But how many members of the force were abusing the system?”

Hawkes: “Again, that’s, we discovered quite a number of incidences, because we did sample tests where people could not justify why they were accessing the records of certain people, including by the way, personalities within RTÉ, so basically there was a need for action there. We’re also, separately, in a separate investigation, we’re also dealing with under our own powers as data protection, we’re dealing with evidence of more active, as it were, disclosure of information from An Garda Síochána to people who have no right to receive it. But that’s a separate issue.

Crowley: “Ok, are you talking about the two whistleblowers? Those that we call the whistleblowers?”

Hawkes: “No I’m not, I’m talking about something entirely different about disclosure from within An Garda Síochána, not in relation to whistleblowers, it’s people who had basis at all for disclosing information to third parties. So..”

Crowley: “Who? What third parties?”

Hawkins: “No, it would be people like private investigators who try to get information from Garda systems.”

Crowley: “And who tried to, or who did?”

Hawkins: “Succeeded.”

Crowley: “On how many occasions?”

Hawkins: “Again, again, all we can do is based on a sample of what we’re dealing with, of complaints we’re dealing with. There have been such instances but the important point in this…”

Crowley: “But how many?”

Hawkins: “No, again, cause I mean, all I can deal with is the ones we know about.”

Crowley: “Ok, well, how many do you know about?”

Hawkins: “We know, I suppose all we know about would be a handful of those cases because we’re carrying out a detailed investigation into private investigators and their actions at present.”

Crowley: “But you know that, in all of those cases, the information went to specific private investigators and you know who those private investigators are..”

Hawkins: “Yeah at we’re..that particular investigation is in fact continuing. We have by no means reached the end of our investigation because it’s not only access to the Garda data it’s also access to data for example in the Department of Social Protection, so it’s more, it’s part of a broader sweep in terms of inappropriate access.”

Crowley:Can we go back to PULSE. Are guards giving information to the media?”

Hawkins: “Well we don’t…know they do but we’re not talking about that.”

Crowley: “No, I mean from PULSE now. Are they passing information from PULSE onto the media?”

Hawkins: “No, again, that was not the focus of our investigation.”

Crowley: “Well I know it wasn’t the focus but did you come across it?”

Hawkins:I suspect that there were incidences, and I’d be careful of what I’m saying, where that might have been happening. But, again, since I’m speaking to a journalist, I’m not going to elaborate.”

Crowley: “Now the question we’ve asked, a couple of minutes ago was how many members of An Garda Síochána have abused the system?”

Hawkins: “I don’t know that answer to that because all we could do is sample it because we did find enough for An Garda to acknowledge they had an issue here which they have addressed. They have taken disciplinary action against a number of members of the force and they have also issued clearer guidelines. They are now carrying out proactive audits which they were required to do under a code of practice which we approved for An Garda Síochána a few years back so basically we’re recording broad satisfaction with the actions they’re taking but we are going to follow up on an action plan which An Garda Síochána are putting in place to make sure that the recommendations we’ve made, to which they’re committed to, are actually carried out.”

Crowley: “But each time a guard signs on to the PULSE system and accesses specific information about a particular individual does that leave a footprint, do we know that he or she has been there?”

Hawkins: “Yes we do and that’s greatly to the credit of An Garda Síochána, they do have proper auditory rules, so you can know which member has accessed the particular record and…”

Crowley: “So then you should be able to tell me how many gardaí have abused the system surely?”

Hawkins: “No because again the people may have a, obviously the gardaí needs access to the records of people on a daily basis and it’s a question of, for example, if there’s an unusual pattern of access, if there’s no obvious reason of why a garda in one particular region is accessing data from a region other than his own. That’s where issues arise and what the gardaí have committed to is to carry out audits, which they are carrying out, to detect that sort of pattern. They have found cases where it has been happening and they’ve taken disciplinary action. So we want the message to go out, within the organisation, that that should not happen and there’s a high risk you’ll be caught if you actually are inappropriately accessing, or worse, disclosing information, outside An Garda Síochána.”

Crowley: “What were the reasons given for the members accessing information about these, let’s call them, minor celebrities and sports people and others. What was behind it?”

Hawkins: “In many cases, it was just curiosity, so there, if you like, there wasn’t anything sinister about it but nevertheless, whether you’re a celebrity or not, if you report something to An Garda Síochána, you have an expectation that it will be treated seriously, it will only be used for the purpose of whatever you’re reporting, whether it’s a burglary, attack or whatever and that it should not be accessed out of curiosity.”


Crowley: “Are you saying that you find no fault with [Sgt Maurice] McCabe and [former Garda John] Wilson?”

Hawkins: “Oh no, what we’re saying is and I really want to generalise it, because we did in fact specifically support the [Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan] Commissioner in relation to information being disclosed to the Public Accounts Committee. So, basically, our position, and my position as Commissioner, is that having focused heavily, not only in this report but also in our annual report last year on inappropriate access by gardaí to data held on the PULSE system, I had a duty to support the Commissioner when he took the position that once the whistleblowers had discharged, if you like, their moral duty to report malpractice within an gardaí, then there was not a basis for them to continue to access the PULSE system and even less so for disclosing confidential information about people to third parties.”

Listen back here

Read the Data Protection Commissioner report here