Big Brother is delving inappropriately into the private lives of Irish citizens, the Data Protection commissioner has found.

Commissioner Billy Hawkes, in a report of his annual audit published on Monday, said there has been a “disturbing failure of governance” in some public bodies in relation to their use of personal information stored on state databases.

He said a “worrying degree” of inappropriate access to personal data by state employees was detected as a result of an investigation by him.

One state agency, the Gardai, used their PULSE computer records system to snoop on celebrities and sports stars.

There were extensive instances of “inappropriate access” by Gardai using the system to view the records of public figures in cases where they are listed as victims and witnesses.

The commissioner’s audit found that one high profile individual had records accessed 80 times; another person’s name was searched 50 times; and a well-known inter-county GAA player was among those searched inappropriately.

There were PULSE accesses of three “high profile media personalities.”  These, as well as the information on the GAA player, appeared to bear no relation to official police business.

The issue was raised as a matter of urgency with senior Garda management.

The commissioner said sharing of data could bring benefits in terms of efficient delivery of public services.

“But it must be done in a way that respects the rights of individuals to have their personal data treated with care and not accessed or used without good reason,” he added.

He said his office has to operate to an extremely high standard because other data protection authorities were monitoring what was being done.

Data Protection commissioner Billy HawkesThe Irish Examiner