Briefing: Controlling the UK's Private Intelligence Industry
New briefing details the growth of the private intelligence industry in the UK and what needs to be done about it.
- The UK has become an offshore haven for the private intelligence industry
- Comprised of hundreds of private detectives, corporate intel firms and PR agencies, and often staffed by ex-spooks, the industry operates around the world
- Reports detail use of hacking techniques, monitoring of environmental and other activists, and running fake 'astroturfing' campaigns for big polluters
- Briefing examines the current legal landscape in the UK, how these firms are regulated by the UK's data protection and surveillance laws, and the gaps in regulation which make their operations possible.
This briefing takes a look at the private intelligence industry, a collection of private detectives, corporate intel firms, and PR agencies working for clients around the world that have made London their hub.
Often staffed by ex-spooks, and promising complete secrecy, little is known about them. But reports over the years have exposed their operations, including things like hacking and targeting of anti-corruption officials, spying on peaceful environment activists, and running fake 'astroturfing' campaigns for big polluters.
This burgeoning industry offers individuals, corporations, and foreign government agencies access to an extensive range of powers and poses a significant threat to the rights, work and safety of rights defenders, environmental campaigners, journalists, and others in the UK and abroad.
Yet, despite increasing evidence, they operate without meaningful scrutiny or safeguards aimed at preventing abuse, and nothing is being done to reign them in.
Our briefing examines the current legal landscape in the UK, how these firms are regulated by the UK's data protection and surveillance laws, notably the Data Protection Act 2018, the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, and the gaps in regulation which currently exist.
We need tougher enforcement of these laws and a new regulation for private spies: in contrast to other countries, private investigators are unlicensed in the UK, and no progress has been made in introducing a mandatory licensing regime for private investigators despite government commitments to doing so and support from industry associations.
The full briefing is available here.
Want to find out more (or just don't fancy reading a long-ish PDF!)? Have a listen to our interview with Franz Wild from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism who investigate this industry and other enablers of oligarchs, dictators and criminals around the world. It is available on our podcast, the Technology Pill.
P.S: If you're concerned about some of these companies holding your data, we also have a guide about how to complete a request for your data, available here.