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'Hidden' SOCA Report Shows UK Businesses Regularly Hack Rivals

The newspaper claims to have seen what appears to be the full report behind SOCA’s publicly released document Private Investigators: The Rogue Element of the Private Investigation Industry and Others Unlawfully Trading in Personal Data published in January 2008. “The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) knew six years ago that law firms, telecoms giants and insurance were hiring private investigators to break the law and further their commercial interests, the report reveals, yet the agency did next to nothing to disrupt the unlawful trade,” says the Independent.

The original public SOCA report (“the results of analysis under Project RIVERSIDE”) states, “Certain private investigators are committing criminal offences in relation to the acquisition and misuse of unlawfully acquired personal data". It adds, “The clients of private investigators can be categorised generally as those involved in domestic proceedings, debt recovery tracers, insurance companies, the media and the criminal fraternity.” The original report does not, however, go into any specific detail.

The full report now seen by the Independent would appear to comprise the research behind the original document and possibly any further findings since then. It was apparently privately supplied to the Leveson enquiry investigating the press phone hacking scandal in 2012, demonstrating that hacking went far beyond the press looking for secrets about celebrities. Leveson, however, ignored the report and did not mention it in his own final report. 

A spokesperson for the Leveson Inquiry said that it had been set up to look at the “culture, practices and ethics of the press and how they engaged with the public, the police and politicians. Evidence on other issues would have been considered to have been outside those terms of reference”.

According to the Financial Times, “Keith Vaz, chair of the home affairs select committee, said SOCA had ‘questions to answer’ about whether they had disclosed all information when they reported to parliament on the use of private investigators.” He has apparently written to Lord Justice Leveson and asked him to hand over any evidence he had on the use of private investigators in other industries.

Labour MP Tom Watson told the Independent, “What is astonishing about this whole murky affair is that SOCA had knowledge of massive illegal invasions of privacy in the newspaper industry – but also in the supply chains of so-called blue-chip companies. I believe they are sitting on physical evidence that has still not been disclosed fully to forensic investigators at the Metropolitan Police.”

SOCA maintains. “SOCA produced a confidential report in 2008 on the issue of licensing the private investigation industry. This report remains confidential and SOCA does not comment on leaked documents or specific criminal investigations. Information is shared with other partners as required.” 

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