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Private Investigators Must Comply With Data Protection Duties

The case below, in my opinion, sends out a stark warning to all private investigators across the country. On a whole, PI’s are very professional and very good at their jobs. The nature of their jobs however relies on them not only being confidential but being able to keep their instructions confidential.

The case below appears to have set a precedent for PI’s now having to disclose to subjects of their efforts any information they hold. If this indeed incorporates having to divulge the source of their instructions, then I fear this Judgment will undermine the whole industry.

Having said the above, the first you normally know about a PI being hired is when you are hit with the results. The fact that these people are very well trained at being ghosts leads me to think that the case only has relevance and importance when a PI has to lift their head above water and gets discovered.

Richard Howlett - Partner

If you suspect that someone has personal data relating to you in their possession, you may have a legal right to know what information they hold and the source from whence it came. In one important case, a couple succeeded in a claim under the Data Protection Act 1998 against a firm of private investigators.

The firm accepted that it was investigating the couple on behalf of a client and that it held, and was processing, about 1,500 documents relating to them. It was also not disputed that the firm was a data controller, within the meaning of the Act, but it refused the couple’s request to divulge the nature of the data or its source.

The firm argued that the relevant data was exempt from the terms of the Act in that it was held for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime or was covered by legal professional privilege. It was also submitted that wholesale disclosure of such a large volume of data would involve excessive expense and would undermine the firm’s business and the duty of confidentiality that it owed to its client.

In ruling in the couple’s favour, the High Court found that their request was valid and that the firm’s refusal to disclose any of the personal data sought amounted to a breach of their rights. The cost of the firm’s compliance with its duties under the Act would not be disproportionate. Detailed analysis of all the documents held would be required before any exemptions from disclosure could be established.

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MLA 2017 18 Shortlisted 2