Minister's clampdown will see rogue private investigators facing jail
Private investigators operating without a licence face being jailed for the first time under a suite of new measures set to be unveiled by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
Ms Fitzgerald will announce a crackdown on rogue investigators, also known as 'tracing agents', as part of a major overhaul of the private security industry.
For the first time, firms face being fined or jailed for up to five years if they are found to be operating without a proper licence.
Companies or individuals found to be engaging the services of rogue private investigators will also be sanctioned under the new laws, the Irish Independent has learned.
Central to the minister's proposals is bringing private investigators under the responsibility of the Private Security Authority (PSA), which regulates cash-in-transit and other security firms.
At present, private investigators face very little regulation in this jurisdiction which has led to concern that widespread illegal tactics are being used to obtain personal data.
Details of the new laws come just months after the Irish Independent revealed that many of the country's credit unions enlisted the services of firms which in turn stole reams of personal information belonging to unsuspecting members.
Deeply sensitive personal data, including addresses and PPS numbers, were obtained by private investigators who used illegal techniques to dupe State officials.
The private investigators then handed over the stolen data to credit unions in return for lucrative fees.
This newspaper detailed how the unprecedented data protection scandal engulfed a series of major State agencies - including An Garda Síochana, the Department of Social Protection and the HSE.
The investigation, led by Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney, led to a major tightening of controls in Tánaiste Joan Burton's department.
Two Wicklow-based investigators were convicted after being found to have "duped" State officials. It was one of the first cases of its kind.
But after significant consultation with stakeholders, the Government has finally followed the UK and introduced proper licensing laws to clamp down on rogue firms.
Sources close to the Justice Minister said the new laws would significantly improve standards in the industry.
The measures, which will come into effect from November 1, are aimed at ensuring that only those licensed by the PSA will be able to advertise or represent themselves as a licensed private investigator.
If found guilty of an offence, a person can be fined up to €3,000 or imprisoned for up to 12 months.
A conviction on indictment can lead to imprisonment for up to five years or a fine.