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Regulation of Surveillance

There are few more effective investigative tactics to quickly establish fact or drive investigations forward than targeted covert surveillance.

Most would rightly assume (as is the case in almost all other first world countries) such an important function to be tightly regulated, yet this is furthest from the truth. The door is open to anyone without training, competence, experience or qualification to offer private investigation or covert surveillance services in the UK. There is no oversight.

This complete lack of accountability provides the space for unscrupulous and unprofessional companies and individuals to operate, preying on the vulnerability of personal clients and   

hiding within systems designed to keep the commercial/corporate client wholly detached from providers through unnecessary but highly profitable layers of “top-down” administration. The outcome is inevitable, client’s rarely receiving the product they expect (or have paid for), a surveillance product obtained through undetermined means acquired by untrained or poorly trained individuals. Such an important function remains an unprofessional and unaccountable mess.

In July 2003 the Home Affairs Committee submitted a white paper to Parliament following the Leveson Inquiry making a number of recommendations, the main being the licencing of Private Investigators through the Security Industry Authority (SIA). Whilst most professional investigation companies acknowledge the need for reform, licencing through the SIA may not prove to be all that is intended. Investigations are not security functions. Surveillance, like forensics, are disciplines in their own right within investigations. In addition, the SIA themselves acknowledged and continue to acknowledge they have neither the appetite, funding nor expertise to regulate Private Investigations and/or private surveillance.

In August 2023 the Law Society (partnered with Association of British Investigators) called for voluntary regulation highlighting the many benefits but acknowledged such discretionary professional affiliation could lead to a fragmented industry.

The regulation of private sector covert surveillance in our view is little different to the highly regulated surveillance activity in the public sector. The lawful acquisition of private information on any person(s) for a specific purpose remains the same function providing the same product, for that there is already a clearly defined legal framework (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) overseen by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC) ensuring proportionality, legality, accountability and necessity providing clear guidance and protection in law.

Would it not be of benefit to broaden the remit of the OSC in conjunction with the Information Commissioner’s Office and with it mandatory professional affiliation? 

Regardless of what shape reform takes we should all agree, the private investigation industry must ensure there is no place for the unscrupulous to continue to defraud and deceive clients.   



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