While in Canada the public, media, and private investigative associations have raised legitimate concerns about unlicenced investigators offering investigative services to the public, concerns about unregulated private investigations are greater in other jurisdictions.  For example, the regulation of private investigators in the U.K. is likely to come into force in the fall of 2014 as a result of private investigators being convicted of unlawfully obtaining personal information for media (Guardian, News of the World), insurers and others.  Remarkably, private investigations are currently not regulated in the U.K.
According to recent press reports in the U.K. (www.ico.org.uk/news), two private investigators for the firm ICU Investigations were recently found guilty of breaching the U.K.’s Data Protection Act. Their firm allegedly pretexted organizations, including medical and utility companies, into disclosing personal information of the people they were trying to trace. Five other private investigators from the company previously pleaded guilty to breaching the U.K.’s Data Protection Act. They will be sentenced on January 24, 2014. Under U.K. law they may be fined but not issued custodial sentences for this type of conviction.
The Financial Conduct Authority, a regulatory body in the UK for the financial services industry, warned that managers at insurance firms are generally unaware of the scope of investigations carried out in their name by private investigators. Allianz was one of ICU Investigations’ clients but the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) stressed it found no evidence of criminality by any organization that employed the firm. The ICO investigation estimated there had been nearly 2,000 privacy violations by ICU Investigations between April 1, 2009, and May 12, 2010. In response to the ICO investigation, an Allianz spokeswoman said: “The ICO has made it quite clear that they found no evidence of wrongdoing by the organizations that employed ICU Investigations Ltd.”
As a result of their investigation, the ICO is seeking greater sanctions against private investigators involved in privacy violations. “We condemn unequivocally, any attempt to obtain information unlawfully.” The information commissioner Christopher Graham met home secretary Teresa May recently to urge her to introduce more effective sentences for these types of offences, which are only punishable by a fine of up to £5,000 in a magistrates’ court or an unlimited fine in a Crown court.
The regulation of private investigators will be carried out by the Security Industry Authority. Licences will be granted to investigators with a government-recognized qualification who have confirmed their identity and undergone a criminality check.
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At Investigation Counsel PC, we represent the interests of police and private investigators in Ontario and across Canada, and have acted for their associations and member companies on matters of privacy regulation in their dealings with Industry Canada and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. For further information, contact us at www.investigationcounsel.com.