Garda (Police) Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan has admitted to using a private email account for official correspondence. But in an emerging controversy, she has refused to say if she breached national security protocol. A statement from her force said they are satisfied the commissioner’s personal email devices are “secure and not compromised.” O’Sullivan said she would answer to the police watchdog and the Department of Justice after it emerged she used a standard Gmail account for garda business. Independent watchdog the Policing Authority is to investigate the report in the Irish edition of The Sunday Times that the commissioner used an unsecured email account to send and receive sensitive information when her account was compromised in an Internet attack in 2012.
In addition to the Policing Authority inquiry, O’Sullivan has been urged to appear before the Oireachtas Justice Committee to deal with the Sunday Times claim that she apparently contravened regulations on communications security.
In a way, the controversy is similar to the one Hillary Clinton was in when there were questions raised on her use of her family’s private email server for official communications while she was secretary of state.
In Ireland, gardai and members of the Defence Forces are required to use email accounts that are generated and maintained on secure servers, and which are under government control, to protect their integrity and security from hackers.
Independent TD Clare Daly, said she will be pressing Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to refer the matter to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), an independent agency that investigates suspected misconduct by members of the garda force.
“Inappropriate use of private email is a very serious problem for a person in such a position of authority, as Hillary Clinton could tell her. It is only the justice minister who can refer this matter to GSOC,” Daly said.
“It’s beyond time for the minister to act. We will be raising this with Frances Fitzgerald and seeking the commissioner to be called before the justice committee.”
The Sunday Times reported that a cloud storage account linked to O’Sullivan’s private email account was among those compromised in 2012 when hackers attacked Dropbox, stealing millions of user names and passwords. It is unclear whether O’Sullivan was aware of the security breach, which did not emerge until last August.
Gardai are prohibited from using commercial or disposable email accounts for any official or corporate business due to security, privacy and data protection laws.
The force’s regulations are designed to ensure that criminals and foreign intelligence agencies cannot compromise or endanger Ireland’s national security, or allow officers to improperly shield correspondence from scrutiny.
Before her appointment as garda commissioner in November 2014, O’Sullivan was deputy commissioner in charge of operations, responsible for intelligence and counterterrorism, a position she held since 2011. She dealt with foreign intelligence agencies, diplomats and senior civil servants.