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Suspicions of illegality have dogged some in detective industry for years

THE world of private investigation in Ireland can be a murky one where the lines between what is legal and what is illegal become easily blurred.

Right now there are dozens of firms offering private detective services to companies and individuals and it is all unregulated.

For a fee, a suspicious wife can have their husband watched to determine whether he really is working late again at the office or is actually in the arms of another woman.

Businesses can pay to have background checks done on potential employees or to carry out surveillance to determine if staff members on long-term sick leave truly are ill.

Insurance companies often turn to private investigators when faced with personal injury claims where millions or euro are potentially at stake.

Their aim is to see if there is any evidence that undermines the injury claim, in the process saving their paymasters a fortune.

Of course investigations of this type can be conducted completely within the law.

There is nothing to prevent a person being filmed in a public place for example.

Legitimate private detective work is also carried out using publicly available information, such as electoral, property and companies registers.

Much private detective work is also done by good old fashioned pounding the pavement, knocking on doors and asking questions.

Ireland is a small country and if you are being paid to find someone or find something out about them, it doesn't tend to be too hard if you show a bit of initiative.

Social media has also made the job of investigators easier.

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One English-based ex-policeman turned private investigator once gleefully showed me how he caught out a woman who had made an insurance claim for a whiplash injury.

After less than an hour or searching online, he managed to find recent pictures of her water-skiing. They had been posted on a friend's Facebook page. When confronted with these, the claim was immediately withdrawn.

But the problem is that not all of these businesses are operating within the law, as today's Irish Independent investigation clearly shows.

Indeed there have been suspicions of illegality for years.

A few months ago outgoing Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes revealed he was investigating a case where information from the Garda Pulse computer system was given to private investigators.

A sample review found this had occurred on a handful of occasions and the matter is now being probed more deeply.

Time will tell whether it is just the case of a few rotten apples or a more widespread phenomenon that requires urgent action.

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