The Department of Health has claimed, in response to an FOI request from Gript, that they are unable to find any record of any contract signed between the Department and the social media monitoring firm Kinzen. The Department has also said that it cannot find any record of negotiations or discussions that led to the signing of those contracts with Kinzen. Similarly the Department has been unable to locate any record of discussions they had with Kinzen in the time leading up to the dissolution of the Department’s relationship with Kinzen in October 2021, shortly after Gript revealed the extend of the HSE’s misinformation reporting programme and Kinzen’s part in it.
According to the Department they were unable to locate the information due “to the cyber attack and loss of information that ensued because of it.” That attack occoured on the 13th/14th of May, 2021, and saw Department of Health systems targeted by an attack similar to the one which crippled the HSE.
A previous FOI submitted to the Department by Gript showed that Kinzen had been contracted to work with the Department on at least three occasions, once in late 2020, and twice in 2021. It’s unclear how much Kinzen were paid for their work in 2020, but the two periods in 2021 netted Kinzen just shy of €108,000.
Our initial FOI led to the disclosure of a small number of material related to Kinzen’s work and their contract with the Department, including an email from Kinzen to the Department which contained a proposal to extend Kinzen’s work with the Department for a further 6 months. Given that this email was sent in July it’s unclear why a cyberattack in May would have removed all traces of the negotiations or agreement of this extension, bar emails we already had, from the Department’s system.
Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly has previously said that the 2021 contract between the Department and Kinzen was procured “outside of normal tendering processing” due to the “extreme urgency” of the situation. The Rural Independent Group has called on Donnolly to come before the Dail and explain why “the Minister’s Department handed out this surveillance contract without any public tendering process,” but the Minister has not yet done so.