Probe Into Firms Who Used Rogue Investigators
Nearly 100 firms and individuals who used rogue private investigators are to be investigated by the data watchdog.
The Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) has handed over a list of 98 clients to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).
The list was drawn up as part of Soca's inquiry into private eyes - Operation Millipede - which led to the conviction of four private detectives for fraud last year.
A further nine clients have been withheld by Soca at the request of the Metropolitan Police.
The so-called "blue-chip hacking" list was handed to MPs in July but only on the grounds the names were kept secret.
The Home Affairs Select Committee did reveal it included 21 law firms, nine insurers and eight financial service companies.
Soca's director general Trevor Pearce previously revealed up to 100 people may have had their details accessed by the private investigators.
Of these potential victims, 91 have already been contacted by the agency.
The ICO will investigate whether the firms involved broke data protection laws.
The files passed on by Soca include correspondence between clients and the private investigators and receipts for payments.
The data watchdog will write to all the individuals and organisations on the list to find out what information they were given and whether they were aware the law may have been broken.
A criminal prosecution for unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data is a possibility.
However, civil action for breaching the Data Protection Act - punishable with a fine of up to £500,000 - is considered to be more likely.
The ICO said the initial phase of the investigation will take several months.