Private Investigators - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Bolstering law enforcement

1.  The business of private investigators is essentially the gathering and reporting of information, with a premium paid for information that is more difficult to obtain, confidential or important to the buyer. They undertake tasks that are important to an individual and to a business and often fulfil and important social role. In future, it is possible that increasing numbers of investigations that are now undertaken by police will fall to private investigators, though whether this is desirable is a matter for further debate. (Paragraph 15)

2.  In its response to this Report, we recommend the Government sets out its assessment of which policing roles could appropriately be undertaken by private investigators and which should not; how it believes cuts to police funding will affect the involvement of private investigators in law-enforcement; and what part private investigators will have in the new landscape of policing. In particular, given the evidence we received, it will be important that this assessment includes an analysis of the role of private investigators in fraud detection, recovery of stolen goods, maintenance of public order and major investigations, such as murder inquiries, with a statement of the risks associated with the involvement of private investigators in each of these areas. (Paragraph 16)

A market in information

3.  Easy access to information poses a double risk. Personal data is easier than ever to access and a private profile of a person can be built from a desktop. The ease of access has also opened the information market to new and unscrupulous suppliers, who may not be registered with the Information Commissioner and are unlikely to understand the rules under which they ought to operate. Phone-hacking appears to be the tip of the iceberg of a substantial black market in personal information. This is facilitated by the easy availability of tracking and digital monitoring devices at very little cost. (Paragraph 26)

Involvement in the justice system

4.  We were very surprised that the Minister responsible for regulation of the private security industry had not even read the report of the Serious Organised Crime Agency on private investigators. The Government should set out a strategy for mitigating the risks posed by private investigators as soon as the Minister has read and reflected on the report. (Paragraph 29)

5.  In order to garner "premium" information that commands the highest prices, we heard troubling allegations that private investigators maintain close links with contacts in public service roles, such as the police forces. These links appear to go beyond one-off contacts and therefore to constitute an unacknowledged, but deep-rooted intertwining of a private and unregulated industry with our police forces. The Independent Police Complaints Commission should take a direct control over investigations in cases alleging police corruption. (Paragraph 35)

Data offences

6.  Personal privacy would be better protected by closer working between the Information Commissioner, the Chief Surveillance Commissioner and the Interception of Communications Commissioner. We recommend that the Government aim, before the end of the next Parliament, to co-locate the three Commissioners in shared offices and introduce a statutory requirement for them to cooperate on cases where both the Data Protection Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act are relevant. In the longer term, consideration should be given to merging the three offices into a single Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. (Paragraph 41)

7.  Confiscation orders should be sought where a person is convicted of data and privacy offences and has sold the information for profit. (Paragraph 46)

8.  We recommend that the Home Secretary exercise her power under section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 to strengthen the penalties available for offences relating to the unlawful obtaining, disclosure and selling of personal data under section 55 of the Data Protection Act. The current fine—typically around £100—is derisory. It is simply not an effective deterrent. (Paragraph 47)


9.  The Metropolitan Police's system of safeguards for reducing the risks of serving police officers being corrupted by conflicting interests—including declarable associations policies, a register of business interests and a list of incompatible interests—should be standardised across the country. However, these checks alone might not be enough to solve the problem. The Government must act to sever the links between private investigators and the police forces. We recommend that there should be a cooling off period of a minimum of a year between retirement from the police force and working in private investigation. Any contact between police officers and private investigators should be formally recorded by both parties, across all police forces. (Paragraph 50)

Timetable for action

10.  "Private Investigator" should be a protected title—as in the case of "social worker"—so that nobody could use the term to describe themselves without being subject to regulation. (Paragraph 72)

11.  We recommend the introduction of a two-tier system of licensing of private investigators and private investigation companies and registration of others undertaking investigative work. Full licensing should apply to individuals operating or employed as full-time investigators and to private investigation companies. Registration should apply to in-house investigation work carried out by employees of companies which are already subject to regulation, such as solicitors and insurance companies. Both should be governed by a new Code of Conduct for Private Investigators, which would also apply to sub-contracted and part-time investigators. A criminal record for breach of section 55 should disqualify individuals from operating as private investigators. (Paragraph 73)

12.  Whereas licensing will impose an additional regulatory burden on the industry, it could also provide the new safeguards necessary to provide some potential benefits. We recommend that the Government analyse the risks and benefits of granting increased access to certain prescribed databases for licensed investigators, in order to facilitate the legitimate pursuit of investigation activities. For example, a licence may confer the right to access the on-line vehicle-keeper database in certain circumstances. It should consider how this would interact with the changes proposed to data protection laws by the European Commission. The United Kingdom has rightly moved to a situation of information management rather than merely looking at data protection. We also recognise that appropriate sharing of data can prevent crime and contribute significantly to other outcomes that are in the public interest. However, any new access should be carefully monitored. (Paragraph 74)

13.  In terms of skills, we are convinced that competency does not ensure conscience. The core of any training regime for investigators ought to be knowledge of the Code of Conduct and the legal constraints that govern the industry. With this in mind, any contravention of data laws should result in the suspension of a licence and prohibition from engaging in investigation activity, linked to meaningful penalties for the worst offences. (Paragraph 75)

14.  It should be possible to implement such a regime quickly after the creation of the new Security Industry Authority, by the end of 2013 at the latest. The Government should include a timetable for implementation in its response to this Report. In view of the repeated delays, on-going abuses and the risks we have identified, the Government should take action quickly. There is no need to wait for the Leveson Inquiry to report before work to set out the principles of regulation and registration begins. Early publication of a draft bill could allow for public and Parliamentary consideration of potential legislation alongside the Leveson report. (Paragraph 76)

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Prepared 6 July 2012