HC takes up petition to regulate private detective agencies

A view of the Madras High Court. File

A view of the Madras High Court. File   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Judge wonders how they can infringe individual’s privacy by taking photos

Piqued over snooping by private detective agencies which stealthily take photographs of even women and children, the Madras High Court has suo motu embarked on an exercise to regulate their activities through constitution of a regulatory board comprising judges, government officials, police officers and rights activists.

Acting Chief Justice Vineet Kothari accepted a suggestion made by Justice R. Subramanian for taking up a suo motu public interest litigation petition on the issue. Accordingly, the case was listed before Justices M. Sathyanarayanan and N. Seshasayee on Wednesday and they ordered notices to governments of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

During the hearing of a child custody case fought by the parents of a minor girl, Justice Subramanian found that the child’s father had engaged a private detective agency to spy on his wife.

The agency’s report contained photographs of her and the child shot inside their gated apartment complex.

Shocked over such a report, the judge ordered notice to the detective agency and directed it to explain under what authority it had spied on the woman and taken her photographs. In reply, the agency stated that it was entitled to do so since its job itself was to carry out surveillance and provide reports to those who engage its services.

Unable to fathom the infringement of an individual’s privacy by such unregulated private detective agencies, the judge appointed Additional Advocate General P.H. Arvindh Pandian as an amicus curiae to assist the court in deciding the further course of action to regulate the functioning of such agencies.

The amicus curiae filed a detailed report stating that a Private Detective Agencies (Regulation) Bill of 2007 was introduced in the Parliament but the Bill lapsed after a couple of years.

That Bill provided for constitution of a central regulatory board and state-level boards to define the functions of detective agencies and the qualifications required to be licenced as a private detective.

Since that Bill fell through and expired, there was no law governing the activities of detective agencies, he said.

The amicus also gave a wider perspective of the procedures adopted in places such as California, Alberta, Queensland and Singapore to regulate the private detectives and said, the High Court could exercise its constitutional powers to constitute State-level boards in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry until the legislature comes up with a law.

He suggested that the regulatory boards could be vested with the powers to grant licence to private detective agencies, monitor their activities by seeking periodical reports and force them to disclose modus operandi adopted by them to collect information for their clients.

The judge forwarded those suggestions to the ACJ for taking up a suo motu PIL.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 11:00:34 PM |

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