17:30 08 July 2012
The Commons home affairs committee have raised a case advising that all private investigators in England and Wales should be licensed or, at the very least, registered.
The move comes in the wake of various phone hacking scandals linked with national newspapers in which numerous, unregistered PIs were suspected of breaching the law to provide the media with exclusive headlines.
MPs saw evidence that 2,032 private investigators are registered as "data controllers" but industry groups have suggested that the true figure is much higher with up to 10,000 people working in the sector.
Committee chairman Keith Vaz was quoted at the BBC: "There are many examples of private investigators dealing in people's personal information.
"It's therefore important in our view that we should make sure that all private investigators are registered so that there is robust regulation. If they break the law, they've got to be fined more than £100."
The Leveson Inquiry's upcoming outcome regarding the aforementioned media scandal is expected to be a strong indicator of how this case will be concluded.
The MPs found out that over half of private investigators were former police officers.
Their report read: "The phone-hacking scandal cast a new light on the sometimes murky world of private investigators.
"Individuals such as Glenn Mulcaire and Steve Whittamore might conform to a certain stereotype of the private investigator, but investigation in its broader sense is a multi-million pound industry which performs many socially valuable functions.
"The rogue element of the industry not only causes significant harm in its own right, it drags down the reputation of the industry as a whole, damaging by association the reputations of many decent, honest, law-abiding and highly skilled investigators."
Some private investigators themselves have welcomed the ideas, believing that the "rogue" bad seeds are damaging their reputation.
Tony Imossi, president of the Association of British Investigators, believes the move is too late but still wants action: "Licensing won't stop it. They need to make it a criminal offence to engage someone as a private investigator who is is not licensed.
"Doormen, clampers and cash-in-transit guards were seen as more politically urgent to get licensed. Had the phone-hacking scandal come to the surface in 2001 I'm sure investigators would have jumped to the top of the list."
So far, the Home Office's response is neutral: "We will carefully consider the committee's report. Given the relevance of this issue to the matters being considered by the Leveson Inquiry, we will await its findings to ensure they can be taken into account in the development of a suitably effective regulatory regime.
"Private investigators remain subject to the law on intercepting communications like everyone else."
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