The secrets-for-cash offer was made by Martin Cunningham — an administrative assistant based at a Belfast based Jobs and Benefits Office, writes Patricia Devlin.
The 26-year-old from Downpatrick said he could snoop the Social Security Agency's internal computer system in return for “enough” cash to “holiday in Barbados”.
He could face a criminal investigation after offering to pass over the private information on a Belfast entertainer after claiming she was “leading a double life”.
But it is actually Cunningham who is leading a double life – when it comes to his job.
After contacting our reporter on Twitter, Cunningham said he could supply Sunday Life with information obtained from his workplace in return for a “reward”.
In a series of private messages, he said: “What's it worth for a full exclusive? I will meet you with all details including pictures.”
He added: “Ok, so how much can u give me? Enough for a holiday in Barbados!”
In another message he wrote: “You tell me what u need to know and I will get it for you”.
Cunningham asked for a face-to-face meeting to discuss the details.
But when we met with the civil servant at a city-centre hotel, we secretly recorded him because what he was suggesting — selling private data on Social Security Agency clients — is illegal.
Brazen Cunningham boasted that he could not only obtain information on benefit claimants in Northern
Ireland, but across the UK.
When asked how he would be able to access the information without the knowledge of Social Security bosses, he replied: “Your name and your payroll number would come up, so you would need some sort of reason why you are going on it.”
Initially claiming he wanted money for himself, Martin changed his story after spotting our photographer waiting outside.
He said: “I’m not doing this for money. I would put the money towards charity.”
When pushed on what charity he would give the cash to, he said: “Cancer charities because I’ve lost a lot of family through it.”
We later called to Cunningham's terraced home he shares with his mother in a quiet residential area of Downpatrick.
He claimed his attempts to illegally sell us highly classified data were “a joke” and that he “guessed” the information he offered to provide us on the local DJ.
The Department of Social Development (DSD) has launched an investigation after Sunday Life revealed details of Martin Cunningham’s offer to sell us private information on clients.
The DSD also made it clear that the administrative assistant would not have had access to more than the Northern Ireland-based computer system.
In a statement a DSD spokesperson said: “Following contact from the Sunday Life the Social Security Agency has taken a number of steps to investigate these allegations.
“The Agency would wish to reassure the public that while staff must have access to personal information in order to process benefits claims, there are security mechanisms within the system on individual cases that enable the Agency to check if staff are seeking unauthorised access to individual records.
“In addition, all Social Security Agency staff are required to abide by the con
duct provisions set out in the Northern Ireland Civil Service Staff Handbook.
“Rules on the misuse or disclosure of confidential information are detailed within the handbook.
“The matters raised by the Sunday Life are now being dealt with by the Department’s Human Resources and Benefit Security teams and therefore we are unable to comment further.”