Data watchdog investigates clients
A total of 19 clients of rogue private eyes are to be investigated for illegal activity, the data watchdog has confirmed.
In a letter to Keith Vaz MP, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said 125 victims were believed to be affected by the companies and individuals under criminal investigation for data protection breaches.
Five retailers, four legal firms, three insurance companies, two financial businesses, a construction firm and a security company were among those suspected of dealing with private investigators who broke the law.
A further three private investigators were also included.
Mr Graham and his office were initially handed a list of 98 clients of corrupt private detectives by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca).
Among them, 12 firms on the list were found to be no longer trading, while the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) was awaiting further information on another 11.
Mr Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "T he most concerning outcome is that 12 of the remaining clients are now inactive which calls into question whether the delay has allowed illegal activity to go unpunished."
Mr Graham appeared before the Committee last month and is to provide an update on Tuesday October 8.
The so-called ''blue-chip hacking'' list was drawn up at the request of the Committee and relates to Soca's Operation Millipede, which led to the conviction of four private detectives for fraud last year.
Soca, Scotland Yard and the Information Commissioner have requested that none of the names on the list are published.
In his most recent letter, Mr Graham said: "I am concerned to avoid compromising any strands of my investigation.
"In this connection, I should like to re-emphasise the continued need for the Committee not to take any further steps to publish the details of clients on the so-called Soca list.
"The material relates to the period 2001 to 2009.
"From material examined, I can say that in the case of 19 clients falling into the category of active there is evidence of a section 55 and/or data protection breach."
Mr Graham and his office were handed 31 lever-arch folders of material by Soca containing copies of exhibits seized from the offices and premises of the convicted private investigators.
His office analysed the material between September 3 and September 23.
Mr Vaz added: "The Commissioner has kept his promise to Parliament and provided the information requested promptly and efficiently.
"I am, however, baffled that for over four years Soca failed to conduct a scoping exercise which has taken the ICO only two weeks to complete."
The committee initially publicly warned Soca it would publish the names on the list, b ut following Mr Graham's intervention it temporarily put this threat on ice.