Private Investigators

Written evidence submitted by Threshold Security [PI04]

Executive summary

There is clearly a perceived threat to personal data, from private investigators, in the minds of the general populace. Recent revelations, in particular those at the Levenson enquiry have highlighted the fact that the general perception has an element of truth about it. The ICO and SOCA, either publically or in confidential reports, are convinced there is a threat to the public if private investigators remain unlicensed.

The SIA, or its successor in title, stands ready to licence. There is sufficient capability in the training and qualifications sector to enable this to be undertaken. The sooner this takes place the better in my view.

Richard J Newman B.A. Open
Past President of The Association of British Investigators
Fellow of The Institute of Professional Investigators

Member International Professional Security Association

Affiliate Institute for Learning
A.B.I. Investigator of the Year 2008

NB The views expressed in this submission are those of the author and do not, or may not, represent the position of any association or body of which he is a member, or has held a position of authority within.


I should preface this submission with the following comment. There is a whole world of difference between an ethical ‘private investigator’ and someone who obtains information from anywhere, for anyone, at a price. The former are there to assist their client to legally source information. The latter will source information how and where they can, often obtaining it illegally if all else fails. So if we can abandon the notion that all private investigators break the law to obtain information that would be a good start. Those others are nothing more than data thieves and should feel the full force of the various laws that can be used against them.

Potential for harm

In May 2007 Lord Falconer said in relation to Data Protection offences that "Following advice from the Information Commissioner, the government is looking for the first opportunity to legislate to allow for custodial sentences, because, put simply at the moment the fines that are currently applied are not enough of a disincentive. The public are entitled to legitimate protection and privacy. At the moment the balance is wrong. The public are not getting the protection they need" [1] .

Nearly 5 years later the public are still not getting the protection they need. I said, in 2007, to Richard Thomas (then Information Commissioner) and Lord Falconer that if the Security Industry Authority licensed professional investigators anyone without a licence is a "bad guy" and the ICO, SOCA or any other government agency can target them.

Those of us who are then, properly licensed, professional investigators can get on with the good work we undertake in assisting the insurance and credit industries to investigate fraud and debt, to serve legal process, and in some cases to help protect vulnerable persons from abuse and violence.

Many surveys and enquiries have been undertaken by the Information Commissioner’s Office, The Serious Organised Crime Agency, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and the Independent Police Complaints Commission into relationships between data controllers and investigators.

The Information Commissioner’s Office published "What Price Privacy" in May 2006. The document title continuing as "The unlawful trade in confidential personal information" [2] which highlighted the illegal nature of the practices involved. During the period 18th November 2002 to 12th January 2006 the ICO secured 23 convictions and of those few, if any, were of a private investigator.

The SOCA Strategic Threat Assessment entitled ‘The threat to UK law enforcement from corruption’ was published May 2010. It provides a clear description of the threats in order of their relative severity. It does not contain the full details of the intelligence supporting the findings, nor does it fully describe the methodologies and vulnerabilities exploited by corruption. (This sensitive information included in the full CONFIDENTIAL assessment is only fully available to Chief Officers and Anti-Corruption Units) What is provided in the publically available Executive Summary is a list of what SOCA refers to as "Corrupters", amongst these are Private Investigators.

"Private Investigators (pis)

Whether seeking corrupt access to information to support investigations, or working to directly assist criminals pis are an increasing threat. They may include people with law enforcement or similar backgrounds, with knowledge of investigative tactics, and methodologies." [3]

So, in the SOCA report there is a short paragraph relating to private investigators but no, publically available, hard evidence provided that they are any more of a risk than any other group of individuals in the public sector.

HMIC in its report ‘Without fear or favour: A review of police relationships’ (Dec 2011) primarily documents police relationships with the media but "has also considered inappropriate relationships and other abuses of power in police relationships with private investigators" [4] . They repeat the view held, and put forward, in the SOCA Strategic Threat Assessment that "the most significant threat nationally is information disclosure to those involved in criminality, to friends and family, and to private investigators". (4)

Once again there is no publically available information that what I would call a ‘private investigator’ is in any way involved in the illegal traffic of information. The HMIC report continues by saying that "Studies into corruption in policing over the last decade have established that it is difficult to assess its extent, although it is apparent that information disclosure is the most common type of corrupt activity. This can include obtaining information for personal purposes, passing information to friends, associates, leaks to the media, and deliberate leaks to criminals." (4) I note that private investigators are not included in the section on "Information disclosure" yet that surely is the one area where they would have the greatest need.

"The IPCC reports that complaints (substantiated and unsubstantiated) in relation to improper disclosure of information have been made against every force in England and Wales in the financial year 2009/10, but these amounted to only 2% (1,189) of complaints against police" [5] . No information in relation to what, if any, information was obtained by any private investigator. "Further, data protection complaints in relation to policing and criminal records to the ICO in 2010/11 amounted to 5% of all complaints received by the ICO" [6] . During 2011 the ICO press releases do not refer to a single private investigator being prosecuted despite there being a number of reports of criminal proceedings, against others, having taken place.

The IPCC, in its report dated August 2011, makes reference to just one instance of abuse by a private investigator in 2007.
"Misuse of police databases to assist private investigator

In 2007, South Wales Police were alerted to the possibility that an employee had misused computer systems to assist a retired police officer who was now operating a business as a private investigator. An investigation was conducted by South Wales Police’s PSD and supervised by the IPCC. The operation identified links between a retired Detective Chief Superintendent who had established his own business and a retired Detective Constable who had rejoined the force as an administrator in a civilian capacity." [7]

Whilst recognising that there is a problem in relation to data disclosure from a variety of sources, including the police and other government departments, to several individuals who purport to be private investigators I would venture to suggest that the vast majority of professional private investigators would not be involved in such a trade.

Then we must consider all those who whilst not admitting they are private investigators nonetheless, access and obtain personal data. Often doing so often in an illegal manner. If investigators are licensed then these ‘other’ persons can be targeted.

Failure to regulate

The Security Industry Authority (SIA) would have licensed Private Investigators according to their minutes of a Board meeting held in July 2011. It is recorded that "The Chief Executive explained that The SIA would have liked to address the regulation of pis earlier. The planned roll out for licensing Private Investigators would have meant an offence date of 1 October 2011. However, the Home Office had halted work and funding on this project in 2010 due to uncertainty as to the future of the SIA." [8]

So that is one reason, other reasons for the failure have been a difficulty in establishing exactly what an investigator does, and therefore to whom the licence should be applied. Having achieved that definition there was, until myself, and other colleagues within the private investigation sector paid for it, no suitable qualification for licence purposes. There are now two awarding bodies with an SIA endorsed licence linked qualification available for investigators to take. (I must declare a financial interest in the provision of the Educational Development International Level 3 Professional Investigators examination)

Compulsory licencing

There are estimated to be anywhere between 3,000 and 10,000 persons operating in the UK who could be considered as ‘Private Investigators’. There are within the present Associations, Institutes and other voluntary investigative organisations approximately 1000 of those investigators. Some are members of more than one organisation.

The vast majority of investigators have not become members of organised groups that advocate licensing and regulation. In that case the only option that would require ALL investigators to be licensed would be compulsory regulation.

If there is no appropriate competency criterion then any person could purport to be an investigator. This would allow unqualified persons to operate and the public, thinking them competent because they hold a ‘licence’. In my view a competency criteria has been applied to all other sectors licensed by the SIA and investigators should not be an exception. A view shared by Baroness Ruth Henig current Chair of the SIA. There is now adequate provision for training and qualification available if, as is proposed by the SIA, the offence date is set at an appropriate date. The time to qualify all those investigators needing to be licensed is estimated as 12 months, by the SIA.

Cost to government and the industry

I am not qualified to estimate the likely cost to Government but would premise that the SIA when making their original plans to licence this sector were confident that the fee they set for a licence would be sufficient to cover their costs.

For my own part I have already paid to take the qualification at a minimal cost of £150.00. The proposed licence fee of £220.00 for a 3 year licence is, in my view, not extortionate. Both are taxable expenses. This would not, in my opinion, be a considerable impact on any SME in terms of time, bureaucracy and cost to become a licensed individual.

January 2012

[1] Lord Falconer Speaking at the ‘Media Law 07 Conference’ on 17th May 2007.


[2] What price privacy? The unlawful trade in confidential personal information. Presented by the Information Commissioner to Parliament pursuant to Section 52(2) of the Data Protection Act 1998 and Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 10 May 2006 Crown Copyright

[3] ACCAG/SOCA (May 2010) The threat to UK law enforcement from corruption Crown Copyright

[4] HMIC (December 2011) Without fear of favour: A review of police relationships Crown Copyright

[5] IPCC (2010) Police Complaints: Statistics for England Wales 2009/10. Available from

[6] ICO (2011) Information Commissioner’s Annual Report and Financial Statements 2010/11. Available from

[7] Corruption in the Police Service in England and Wales Part 1 August 2011 published by the IPCC following a request by the Home Secretary using powers under Section 11 (2) of the Police Reform Act 2002


[8] Para 29 of minutes of the SIA Board Meeting dated 28 th July 2011 available at


Prepared 13th March 2012