The Information Commissioner’s Office will look at a list of 98 clients, including law firms and celebrities. That is the headline but what, really, does it tell us? Did these four private investigators only have an average of 25 clients each? Are no other private investigators involved in this behaviour?
It does seem that only those clients of the 4 known PI’s that will generate headlines are to be looked at which does seem a tad unjust for what we call our Justice system. Does anyone really think that the authorities have identified all the PI’s who have been collecting information in this way or is it convenient to run with a headline 4 so that there is no need to let the public know the extent of the weaknesses in the country’s data protection laws? Are the clients of the PI’s properly targeted as the main culprits or are the dishonest contacts in Government Departments, Banks, Insurers, the Courts, Investigators, Prosecutors etc who release information to the PI’s, where the effort could be better targeted?
The problem faced by the ICO shows up in the way in which they were excluded from the information held by the Police and SOCA. Parliament had to try to force the disclosure to ICO even though it seems Parliament were being told such disclosure was not appropriate at this time and, it seems, that SOCA was more powerful than Parliament and could order Parliament to keep the information secret. People were to be named when there was no information that they did anything wrong. If they have done something wrong then punishment ought to follow but we seem to have forgotten that the punishment is meant to follow the proof of crime.
Perhaps what needs to be looked at here is just why the SOCA appears to be taking so long to deal with what ought in truth to be a series of simple investigations that never needed SOCA to get involved. Someone appears to have wanted a headline and that may be what has caused delay. Each incident to be investigated is probably independent of all others. They are a series of unrelated crimes that individually could and should be investigated by the police forces covering the area where the people are situated. Some central advisor might be appropriate to ensure efficiency but then, that is what the ICO would expect to do?
To what extent does the Press and therefore the public want to have headline making suspects instead of the faceless people who work for HMRC, the NHS, Police, Banks, Insurers etc who decide to sell our information on to these private investigators for their own profit or work in such a lax environment that giving out information to people who are not entitled to is seems quite normal? If Government and big business complied with the Data Protection laws and ensured their employees did similarly then the market for these PI’s would diminish. Unfortunately, the ‘faceless’ will rarely make it on to a list of people to investigate which encourages breaches to continue. Who are the main culprits? Those who ask for the information or those who sell it or simply give it away?
When pursuing the clients of the 4 PI’s the investigators may fall into the trap of assuming that what is now obvious to us all was obvious to the person who asked the PI to assist in the first place. The PI who comes up with unbelievable results may often find that those receiving the information are too excited by the results to act other than naively with the information. How they deal with the information will probably be more telling than the original instructions.
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