Last week could have seen the release of a list of blue-chip companies who utilised private detectives convicted of corrupt practices. It was initially thought the list totalled 102 but The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) has apparently withheld a small number of names which are subject to a separate investigation. 98 names are now said to be listed with 33 appearing to have already been leaked, these varying widely from Simon Cowell and Jeremy Clarkson to Credit Suisse and Deloitte.
SOCA has been accused of withholding the list for 4 years. This is despite the fact that the UK Government has been undertaking investigations into hacking issues since 2005. The list was only released to the Home Affairs Select Committee in the past 6 weeks following increased pressure and multiple news reports on the matter. The Committee are understood to have subsequently issued an ultimatum to SOCA to publish the list by a deadline of early last week or the Committee themselves would. SOCA, however, have refused to yield.
Many believed that the Committee were ready to release the names should SOCA not act, but this was soon in doubt due to further opposition from Police and Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham. Indeed the Home Affairs Committee has now agreed to delay the release until at least 8 October, at which time Mr Graham is expected to report back to the committee on his on-going investigations. Mr Graham believes that the list should not be released until the criminal investigation into potential breaches of data protection laws has been completed as the release could harm the investigation. Moreover, he argues that those named must be treated as innocent until proven guilty, noting that it must be proven that they were aware that the information which they were seeking was only obtainable by unlawful means for them to be guilty of unauthorised disclosure offences. The ICO is indeed expected to be planning to write to all those named to query exactly what they knew about the practices of those detectives hired and to look at over 30 files from Operation Millipede (a SOCA investigation which resulted in 4 investigators being jailed last year). Meantime, the ICO continues to press for the enactment of custodial sentences for the offence of "blagging", i.e. the unauthorised obtaining of personal information. Although provided for by the Criminal and Justice Immigration Act 2008, the blagging provisions have never been brought into force, much to the frustration of the ICO.
Mr Vaz, Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, is nevertheless adamant that it is in the public interest that these names be published and has called for “Leveson part 2” - a public inquiry into the use of private investigators outside the media. The notion that those named merit protection has evidently been the subject of much debate, particularly from the media, given the lack of protection afforded to journalists following the hacking scandal.