Information Commissioner's Office
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ICO ‘shines a light’ on private investigators as new campaign launched to punish rogues

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, has announced that it’s time to ‘shine a light’ on private investigators to remove any criminal elements that breach the Data Protection Act and tarnish the industry’s reputation.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has written a letter to private investigations firms, public authorities who use these services, and the police to examine the extent of the problem. The ICO is also urging members of the public who have evidence of private investigators breaching the Act to get in touch.

The spotlight fell on private investigators compliance with the Data Protection Act during the Leveson Inquiry and the Home Affairs Select Committee. The ICO campaign aims to uncover whether a wider problem exists.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said:

“By shining a light into the darkest corners of the private investigation industry we are aiming to root out any criminal elements that continue to cause public concern and blight the professional reputation of their counterparts.

“We believe the majority of private investigators go about their business in compliance with the Data Protection Act, using their expertise to ask the right questions, investigate the right areas and examine the information that’s already available. The fact that less scrupulous professionals may be trying to take shortcuts by illegally accessing people’s data is, quite simply, wrong. This is why they must be identified and stopped using the enforcement powers available, including monetary penalties of up to £500,000 for serious breaches of the Act.

“Any information provided to our office can be submitted anonymously and we have channels in place to allow people to do this. We would urge anyone who has information that would aid our investigation to get in touch. We will report back on our findings in the summer.”

Unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data is a criminal offence under section 55 of the Data Protection Act (DPA). There are also concerns that some people and agencies advertising themselves as private investigators are failing to comply with other areas of the Act, by failing to ensure the information they handle is accurate and that it is securely deleted once it is no longer required.

Anyone who believes they have information about criminal elements with the private investigations sector should contact our office.  You can contact the ICO by email via and contact our office directly on 0303 123 1113. All of the information provided can be submitted anonymously if required. 

The ICO has published guidance which explains the protection available to whistle blowers who report breaches of the law by their employers.

Head of Enforcement Steve Eckersley launched the campaign at the Association of British Investigators AGM:

Click here for the video

Notes to Editors

1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.

3. The ICO is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Keep up to date on the ICO blog and e-newsletter. Our Press Office page provides more information for journalists.

4. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:

  • Fairly and lawfully processed
  • Processed for limited purposes
  • Adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • Accurate and up to date
  • Not kept for longer than is necessary
  • Processed in line with your rights
  • Secure
  • Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection

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