Private investigators and data protection

Posted: 22nd April 2016

SecretsIf you suspect that someone has personal data relating to you in their possession, you may have a legal right to know what information they hold and the source from whence it came. In one important case, a couple succeeded in a claim under the Data Protection Act 1998 against a firm of private investigators.

The firm accepted that it was investigating the couple on behalf of a client and that it held, and was processing, about 1,500 documents relating to them. It was also not disputed that the firm was a data controller, within the meaning of the Act, but it refused the couple’s request to divulge the nature of the data or its source.

The firm argued that the relevant data was exempt from the terms of the Act in that it was held for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime or was covered by legal professional privilege. It was also submitted that wholesale disclosure of such a large volume of data would involve excessive expense and would undermine the firm’s business and the duty of confidentiality that it owed to its client.

In ruling in the couple’s favour, the High Court found that their request was valid and that the firm’s refusal to disclose any of the personal data sought amounted to a breach of their rights. The cost of the firm’s compliance with its duties under the Act would not be disproportionate. Detailed analysis of all the documents held would be required before any exemptions from disclosure could be established.