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MPs get secret squirrel dossier of 'lawyers, megabiz hiring hackers'

Light may yet shine on list of firms allegedly using dodgy dicks

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Blue-chip firms who allegedly hired private investigators to unlawfully hack systems for personal and sensitive information have been named in a secret list submitted to Parliament.

That's the same sort of alleged skullduggery that ended up bringing down Rupert Murdoch’s best-selling Sunday tabloid News of the World.

Law firms, construction companies, insurance companies, management consultants, oil companies, car rental agencies, accountancy firms and venture capitalists appear on an extensive catalogue of organisations and individuals suspected of commissioning corrupt private investigators. The roll call was put together by the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).

None of the entities on the confidential list, supplied to MPs on the powerful Home Affairs Select Committee, is a media organisation, The Independent notes.

Law firms make up the biggest category of businesses featured in the dossier, totally 22, it is understood. The list of alleged clients for dodgy gumshoes also includes 10 insurance businesses, eight financial services firms, four management consultancies and two celebrities.

All those named have thus far escaped either criminal prosecution or censure from Blighty's privacy watchdog over the alleged use of tactics - which include paying police officers for sensitive information, tapping telephone lines using gadgets planted by ex-BT engineers into street cabinets, computer hacking and "blagging", the latter being tricking tax authorities and banks into handing over sensitive information using social engineering tactics.

The Independent claims none of the organisations named have been warned they are on the list.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the select committee, was asked by SOCA to withhold publication of the list pending possible civil action by the Information Commissioner or a possible police investigation.

A 'secret squirrel' club

Vaz told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I don't think that Parliament should be part of a 'secret squirrel' club where we are given a list that is important and should be in the public interest and we are not able to publish it.

"The reason that we can't publish it at the moment - though I am consulting with members of the committee and we will come to a view on this - is because we are told that both the Information Commissioner and the Metropolitan Police may be interested in investigating the 94 companies, firms, individuals that are on the second list."

The Home Affairs Select Committee is running an inquiry into private investigators. A final decision on whether or not to name names will be made at the time the committee publishes its report.

The extensive correspondence between Vaz and SOCA that led to the police agency turning over the list to the panel of MPs - bundled in a report titled Private Investigators: The Rogue Element of the Private Investigation Industry and Others Unlawfully Trading in Personal Data - can be found here [PDF].

Initially the police agency wanted to show the list to Vaz alone and supply a redacted report to other committee members - but then the cops agreed to turn over the whole report to MPs, who are putting together proposals for regulating the private investigator industry.

The list of alleged clients of dodgy private investigators was put together as part of SOCA's Project Riverside, which ran between 2006 and 2007, and uncovered evidence of widespread criminal conduct. "This list has been around for a number of years and nobody has done anything about it," Vaz acknowledged.

Scotland Yard told The Independent that its Operation Tuleta inquiry into computer hacking, a parallel inquiry to Operation Weeting probe into alleged voicemail snooping by journalists, was ”aware of companies and individuals, outside of the media industry, who are suspected of having committed criminal offences“. Operation Tuleta is reportedly not due to conclude until 2015.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office told El Reg: "We are still awaiting the details of SOCA’s investigation. SOCA has confirmed to both the Home Affairs Select Committee and our office that the information will be provided after the conclusion of Operation Tuleta." ®

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