Out of legal necessity, one needs to tread very carefully while discussing the emerging scandal at Independent News & Media (IN&M), an issue which may eventually represent one of the greatest data breaches in the history of modern Ireland (or at least since the Irish National Army and its British allies blew up the Public Record Office in the summer of 1922, sending bits of singed paper flying all over the capital). According to press reports, hundreds of thousands of emails belonging to the publisher of the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent and the Herald newspapers as well as other daily and regional titles, may have been subjected to an information trawl by a private IT firm in the United Kingdom, in circumstances which have yet to be fully explained. Some of these electronic communications seem to date back to 1999 and involve not just employees of the company, both past and present, but potentially everyone who had contact with them through their staff accounts during a period of nearly two decades.
Helen Dixon of the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) has announced that she will be investigating the reported removal and indexing (or “interrogation”) of backup tapes from IN&M’s premises in October 2014, allegedly carried out by the UK-based archiving company Trusted Data Solutions and paid for by Blaydon Limited, an obscure investment firm in the Isle of Man linked to controversial business interests in Ireland.
Dixon’s decision partly stems from a sworn affidavit to be submitted to the High Court by Ian Drennan of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) which claims among other things that the authorisation for the exercise came from Independent News & Media’s then chairman, Leslie Buckley, who announced his premature retirement from the business in January of this year. The ODCE submission is in support of its request seeking the appointment of High Court investigators to look into IN&M’s business dealings. This in turn may be related to a wider case being examined by the Director of Corporate Enforcement, resulting from the whistleblowing testimony of Robert Pitt, the former chief executive of Independent News & Media.
There is more, much, much more to this complex and historically layered story, involving the apparent rivalry of several Irish entrepreneurs and their associates going back some thirty years. This includes financially ruinous fights over various lucrative business contracts, the subversion of politicians and public servants, and a bitter and avowedly personal struggle for control of the country’s independent media, from newspapers to radio stations. However, since these wealthy individuals are also notoriously litigious, I will hold off on any deeper discussion for now.