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Should you license an industry that provides a very legitimate service to Society and Corporations without giving it any further powers

by Josef Kafka

Private investigators often get a bad rap. A man from Hertfordshire recently went public with his criticisms of a private investigation company, which was employed by his bank to assess his credit reliability. The investigators had accessed his Experian account, without formally acquiring his consent, and he has made clear that he considers the action an unacceptable breach of privacy. His bank responded that it was legitimately entitled to conduct searches of credit reference agencies, such as Experian or Equifax, because the bank required the information to offset risk in dealing with any questionable customer. 

In this case as some others, the private investigation company were assisting a corporate system with a valid commercial search. While the customer is resting his legal case on whether or not his consent was acquired by the bank, perhaps there will come a time when credit reference agencies will be able to refer to such inspections as “public data searches”, for which explicit consent is not required. In recent years we have seen the damage that can be done by an excess of bad debt, surely a bank taking necessary steps to avoid such debt is in the public interest? If so, private investigators are providing a valuable service, which should not be treated as unacceptable or seedy. 

Partially due to the bad press accruing to cases like this one, private investigators will be required to acquire licenses from autumn 2014 onwards. Such licenses will only be after the candidate has gone through an official training process and a criminality check.  Home Secretary Theresa May has insisted upon the importance of maintaining rigorous standards in the field of private investigation, to protect public privacy and to crack down on “rogue investigators”. 

Of course, as in any industry, there are investigators who do not observe strict legal or ethical boundaries and who discredit the entire profession. While it is reasonable for the government to want a guarantee that investigators are legitimate operators, in this case the bad behaviour of a minority of operators is being used as an excuse to hamper the work of all detectives. While new restrictions are being put in place later this year, and investigator will be harshly punished for breaking the rules, the proposed investigative licenses will not come with any known increased powers or privileges. If the law passes, clients will still want the same services from investigators that they presently require, but the investigator could face jail terms as a result. 

What the Home Secretary appears to fail to understand, is that Private Investigation is an industry that contributes positively to society. By offering legitimate services to individuals and corporations, Investigators empower their clients to make wise commercial, financial and personal decisions. The value of such services is clear from the continuous demand for high quality investigation services, from respected banks, law firms, and high-profile individuals. 

However, in order to effectively provide what is a very specialised service, investigators need more power and better tools than those that will be accessible under the new licensing laws. For example, we provide tracing services for missing friends and family members, lost heirs, and absconding business partners, not to mention stolen goods or information. Undertaking these kinds of searches, which are highly emotionally and/or commercially important, requires more than a standard search engine and a phone book. It requires access to more sensitive information, outside the public domain. Of course, our investigators are responsible professionals and can be trusted to use such information for the client’s purposes, otherwise maintaining absolute confidentiality. 

Similarly, we’re often called upon to carry out background checks, whether on new employees, potential family members, or new tenants and mortgage holders. As the Irish housing crash indicated, landlords and property developers are involved in a high-stakes game, in which a great deal relies on the word of the customer. Before signing major deals, it is reasonable for them to want access to the land registry to confirm, what if any other properties that the tenant has owned prior, and reliable background checks in property rentals or ownerships they should be able to call on investigators to conduct that search. 

Debt collection is another service that all too frequently is required by individuals and companies within our society. The success of any economy depends on the good-faith of borrowers, both large and small, and there needs to be a strong system by which those who skip out on debts can be found and held accountable. While state detectives may not have the remit or resources to undertake debt collection, private investigators can fill the gap and ensure that debtors don’t suffer unfairly. Again, this kind of search requires advanced access, and investigators should be able to undertake legitimate searches without fearing legal repercussions. 

 

In a time when our industry is being publicly questioned, 247 Investigations promises the highest levels of honesty, integrity and confidentiality. 

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