The director of a Galway-based private investigation company has pleaded guilty at Tuam District Court to breaches of the Data Protection Act.
Michael Ryan, of Glen Collection Investments Ltd, in Glenamaddy, obtained personal information from the Department of Social Protection when he was working on behalf of AIB and Bank of Ireland.
Today's court proceedings follow an investigation by Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney.
The case arises from a complaint by an individual, Daniel Lannon, that his personal data, including details of a previous address in Louth, had been handed over unlawfully to a private investigator.
Ryan had been carrying out work for Croskerrys Solicitors in Dublin, a firm specialising in debt recovery, that was acting for AIB.
The court heard he obtained personal information from his sister-in-law, Catriona Bracken, who was an employee of the Department of Social Protection in Athlone.
The personal data of 61 individuals had been accessed on behalf of the two main banks in this investigation.
Ms Bracken, AIB and Bank of Ireland were not represented in court as the prosecution related solely to Ryan and his company. The court heard the company was not registered with the Data Protection Commissioner and had no authorisation to process personal information on databases.
The court heard that while it is not against the law for solicitors and banks to hire private investigators, it remains a serious breach of the Data Protection Act to obtain personal information unlawfully.
It was the tactics and methodology used that were of serious concern in this case.
Judge Conal Gibbons said that by publicising prosecutions of this nature, citizens would have their rights protected and vindicated in the courts.
He also expressed concern that banks did not take greater care to ensure the people they were hiring to help recover debt were fully compliant with rules and regulations.
The judge took into account the guilty plea and the financial circumstances of Ryan when he imposed a fine of €7,500.
The court heard the 47-year-old father of five was in mortgage arrears.
He had no previous convictions and received modest fees of between €45 and €100 for each 'trace' he carried out illegally.
Today's successful prosecution was welcomed by the State's data protection watchdog.
Assistant Commissioner Delaney said private investigators acting unlawfully would continue to be vigorously pursued.