Private investigators are using vehicle-tracking devices to carry out illegal surveillance on insurance customers suspected of making fraudulent claims.
The investigators, also known as 'tracing agents', are themselves being investigated for placing spy equipment underneath cars belonging to unsuspecting policyholders.
The shocking scale of the covert surveillance being used by private investigators is laid bare for the first time today.
Intelligence received by the new investigations unit in the Data Protection Commission also reveals that insurance firms are handing over medical or consultants' reports to private firms that they pay to spy on customers.
Banks, local authorities and law firms have also joined the list of organisations availing of the services of private investigators, some of whom use illegal tactics to obtain our personal data.
The revelations come exactly two years after the Irish Independent revealed that dozens of the country's credit unions had hired private investigators, which in turn used false identities to elicit addresses and PPS numbers from the Department of Social Protection.
Now, Assistant Data Protection Minister Tony Delaney has widened his net to investigate suspected breaches of databases belonging to a range of state bodies, including An Garda Síochána and the HSE.
But Mr Delaney has expressed particular concern about the activities of private investigators working on behalf of the insurance industry and their use of tracking devices.
He said: "Intelligence has come our way to suggest that some private investigators are using vehicle-tracking devices, going into people's driveways or yard or whatever and attaching a tracking device.
"It's very troubling. That's why it's not in anybody's interest, particularly the insurance industry, that their reputations could be in any way tarnished by this sort of activity being done, unknown to them, but it is being done because they hired the private investigators."
Mr Delaney said that placing tracking devices under vehicles was in breach of section 2 of the Data Protection Act, although he admitted that this particular section did not include specific 'offences' as such.
Mr Delaney has now written to insurance companies to warn them of the illegal practice.
Some of these firms said that they were unaware that such surveillance was taking place, he added.