Background: New laws and several convictions, but private eyes still loom large
Published 15/08/2016 | 02:30
Two years ago to the day, this newspaper broke details of Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney's investigation into the use of private investigators by the country's credit unions.
We revealed that agents used false identities to elicit private data from a number of State bodies, including the Department of Social Protection.
The information, which includes addresses and social welfare details, was then provided to credit unions in return for lucrative fees.
But departmental officials who handed out the personal information insisted that they had been "duped" by the private investigators. The scandal rocked the credit union sector, causing many of them to sever ties with the private investigators in question. It also led to a major tightening of data controls in the Department of Social Protection.
Mr Delaney secured a number of successful prosecutions of private investigators who were using illegal techniques.
In Wicklow, a judge convicted two private detectives hired by credit unions who had used "subterfuge" to dupe government employees into giving them personal information.
Several months later, in May of 2015, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald announced a crackdown on private investigators as part of a major overhaul of the private-security industry.
For the first time, firms now faced being fined or investigators being jailed for up to five years if they were found to be operating without a proper licence.
Further successful prosecutions followed, including one involving a private investigator who used a mole in the Department of Social Protection to mine their computer system for personal information on people. Then, last August, a rogue private investigator suspected of using illegal tactics to obtain personal data belonging to hundreds of credit union customers fled the country for the UK.
Mr Delaney sent a dossier detailing the activities of this particular private investigator to his counterparts in the UK.
But two years on, the activity of rogue investigators is consuming a large chunk of the work of the new unit.
With the net now widening and private investigators becoming more sophisticated, Mr Delaney insists that more cases will be unearthed.