The Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Digital Rights Ireland have told the Oireachtas Health Committee that the Department of Health's defence of its litigation practices is contradictory and that its data collection breaches GDPR.

The committee is examining issues raised by an RTÉ Investigates report that the Department had been secretly using information from private doctor consultations to build and maintain dossiers on children with autism involved in legal actions against the state.

The broadcast also said that this was done without the knowledge or consent of parents.

The Department has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

In a joint letter to the Committee seen by RTÉ News, the ICCL and DRI say that an internal review carried out by the Department confirms that medical reports provided without the knowledge of plaintiffs were found in the Department's own files.

The letter says: "The internal review outlines exactly how the Department of Health seeks and obtains personal data pertaining to children from the HSE, without their knowledge, and how the Department of Health gives the HSE and its agents explicit instructions not to seek consent for this data transfer from the person to whom it pertains or their parent or legal representative".

The ICCL and DRI say that in six out of 29 cases examined by the review, medical reports from clinicians, provided without the knowledge of the plaintiff, were found in the Department of Health’s files.

They say the review also outlines how the Department of Health seeks "service updates" about plaintiffs from the HSE which "would assist in identifying cases suitable for settlement".

The letter says that they believe the Department’s data collection does not meet the requirements of GDPR.

Meanwhile, the Secretary General of the Department of Health has defended the Department's practices and has rejected any suggestion that it was prying on families.

Robert Watt will be questioned by the Oireachtas Health Committee tomorrow as part of its examination of the issues raised by whistleblower Shane Corr which were highlighted in the RTÉ Investigates report.

In his opening statement, seen by RTÉ News, Mr Watt cites the review of the protected disclosure carried out by Conleth Bradley SC.

According to Mr Watt, that review found that there was "no basis for a reasonable belief of wrongdoing as this term is defined in the Protected Disclosures Act".

Mr Watt says that Mr Bradley also found that the information shared between parties was consistent with the sort of information which arises in such litigation.

The secretary general also details some of the findings of the internal Department of Health review he established after the RTÉ broadcast.

He says that the team found that there was no evidence that the Department of Health was secretly compiling dossiers on children with autism involved in litigation.

He also says the review also found that the Department never gathered sensitive medical and education on children "in the manner portrayed by RTÉ".