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Garda commissioner's use of private email account defended

Published 21/11/2016

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan used a private email account
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan used a private email account

The use of a private email account to send and receive official correspondence by Ireland's most senior police officer has been defended.

Gardai said Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan had used the Gmail address because of size and storage level limits within the internal systems.

A Garda statement also said they were satisfied the Commissioner's computer devices were secure and that security had not been compromised.

It said: "An Garda Siochana is satisfied that the Commissioner's systems are secure and there is no evidence that they have ever been compromised.

"The Commissioner is well aware of her obligations to protect national security and policing operations and would under no circumstances allow them to be compromised."

The Sunday Times newspaper first reported that Ms O'Sullivan had been using a commercial email account.

A senior garda officer also told Irish State broadcaster RTE he communicated on official business through a commercial email account when she was deputy commissioner, sending at least one official report and receiving an email on a separate Garda matter from the same address.

Gardai acknowledged the Gmail address had been "occasionally used".

The statement said: " Due to restrictions with the Garda email system such as e-mail size and storage, the Commissioner occasionally used a Gmail address to ensure that Garda business has been discharged effectively. At all times, there has been due regard to the sensitivity of any information being transmitted in this way. Such issues with the Garda email system were identified by the Garda Inspectorate 2015 Report and are currently being addressed as part of the organisation's mobility strategy.

"It is standard procedure and an essential requirement that all Garda personnel with mobile devices have Gmail accounts installed on these devices by Garda ICT Security personnel to ensure such devices are constantly secured and correctly configured.

"The Commissioner takes all recommended security measures when using Gmail such as regularly changing the password, using a mix of letters, numbers and symbols for the password, and independent device authentication.

"An Garda Siochana's policy on email use dates from 2012 and does not take into account advances in technology since then such as the need for mobile devices to be associated with a commercial email address in order for them to be secured and configured. The 2012 policy has recently been reviewed and a new policy is being finalised.

"An Garda Siochana has strict security controls in relation to the use and access to Garda IT systems. Devices issued to the Commissioner are secured by secure connections and utilise strong encryption technologies. Access to the Pulse database on any Garda Siochana devices is segregated by secure containers which does not store any Garda data on the device. This is coupled with strong users password policies and strong authentication."

Reports on the controversial issue are due to be submitted to the Department of Justice and the Policing Authority.

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