herald

Monday 25 September 2017

Firms warned about 'spy' tracker devices on customers' cars

Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney
Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney

Hundreds of companies in industries ranging from banking to insurance have been warned about the use of spy kits by private investigators, the Herald can reveal.

In an unprecedented move, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has written to around 400 separate bodies in a bid to tackle the illegal use of so-called "tracking devices".

Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney has warned some of the country's most well-known firms that private investigators are attaching the devices to their customers' cars as part of covert surveillance activity.

Mr Delaney has told the 400 bodies, some of which are also State bodies, to put the private investigators "on notice" that they face potential prosecution.

He has also warned that, in some cases, insurance companies have handed over full medical or consultants' reports to private firms that they pay to spy on customers.

The activities of private investigators, also known as 'tracing agents', have been the subject of a rigorous and lengthy investigation by Mr Delaney and his officials.

The senior civil servant, who heads up the commission's investigations unit, has become increasingly concerned about the use of spy kits, which are placed underneath people's' vehicles, often in the middle of the night.

Doing this without the knowledge of the owner is in breach of data protection laws.

Contacted by the Herald, Mr Delaney confirmed that his letter was sent to firms in the sectors of banking, insurance, financial services, as well as credit unions and bodies in the local government sector.

"The purpose of this letter was, in the first instance, to alert them to the fact that some private investigators are attaching tracking devices to the vehicles of individuals on whom they are carrying out surveillance, and secondly, to recommend actions that they should take in relation to it," Mr Delaney said.

Consent

"We strongly recommended that these entities should write to all private investigators that they currently use to put them on notice that the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has advised that such devices may only be used with the consent of the individual vehicle owner or driver who is the subject of surveillance.

"Also, that the use of such devices without appropriate consent should cease immediately and should not be repeated."

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