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Tough new rules on the way for private detectives

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Belgium’s federal minister for home affairs, Annelies Verlinden (CD&V) is working on a new reform of the law on private detectives, the first since the law was last amended in 1991.

Eight years ago, the auditors in the home affairs ministry sounded the alarm bell, arguing that the profession of private investigator (PI), though regulated, was subject to far too few restrictions. Where police detectives are subject to ever stricter rules on how they conduct investigations, for private detectives nothing has changed in 30 years.

In order to work as a private detective in Belgium, you need a licence issued by the ministry. Currently there are 790 licenced private detectives operating, either as independents or employed by companies.

Insurance companies are most likely to employ PIs for the investigation of claims, for example AG Insurance (71), Ethias (57), AXA Belgium (58) and KBC Verzekeringen (31). Supermarkets and large chains like Brico, Carrefour and Delhaize employ PIs mainly to deal with thefts.

Other large companies – Proximus, Coca-Cola, NMBS, De Lijn, DHL – use PIs to deal with fraud.

The time has now come for an overhaul of the 1991 law, bringing it into the age of artificial intelligence, social media and location tracking.

A draft text has been developed after consultation with various partners,” said ministry spokesperson Sophie Demeyer, speaking to De Tijd.

The legal framework must be adapted to the spirit of the times – especially privacy rules and individual fundamental rights. The public investigation activities of the police and the judiciary have been profoundly amended over the past 20 years, but those of the private investigator profession have not.”

Among the changes being envisaged, comes a duty on the part of the PI to ensure that the commission given by a client is itself lawful, and that the client has a legitimate right, for example to track the movements of a spouse.

The intention and means of an investigation must in future be set down in writing. Third parties may only be questioned when they have given consent, and PIs may no longer pose as someone they are not to obtain information.

The results of every investigation must be set out in a final report, and may not then be used for any purpose other than the one set out in the initial contract.

Finally, PIs will have a legal responsibility to report any crime or offence detected to the proper authorities, even if incidental to the original purpose of the investigation.

Verlinden’s planned reforms are far-reaching, which is unlikely to make them welcome to the business world. The last time anyone tried to reform the industry, home affairs minister Joelle Milquet (cdH) in 2013, the opposition came not from the down-at-heel gumshoe of popular culture, but from the finance industry regulator Febelfin, from the employers’ federation FEB, from the insurance industry federation Assuralia, and all the way up to the National Bank.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times