UNSCRUPULOUS GUMSHOES TARGETED
LDP moving to clamp down on private eyes
The Japan Times: March 20, 2005
People in general may have a positive image of private detectives. After all, they’re often the heroes of TV dramas, righting wrongs and helping the disadvantaged.
But the work of private eyes in Japan is usually not romantic at all — and many of the detectives are not necessarily good guys.
Indeed, an increasing number of unscrupulous acts by private detectives — including serious crimes such as blackmailing their clients — has prompted ruling coalition lawmakers to launch a working team to draw up a bill to restrict activities of private investigative agencies.
The Liberal Democratic Party’s working team plans to prepare the bill by the end of April. With the support of coalition partner New Komeito, the legislation is expected to be enacted during the current Diet session that runs through mid-June. “Now there are no legal restrictions at all, so even investigation firms run by yakuza can openly do business,” said LDP member Taku Yamamoto.
“Some do not conduct investigations, but they demand exorbitant fees. Others blackmail (clients) by using information they obtain,” said the lawmaker, who has played a central role in the project team’s effort to draw up the bill.
The National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan, a government-affiliated body engaged in consumer protection, reports that complaints about private investigation agencies surged from 844 in 2000 to 1,250 in 2003.
Of the 150 cases searchable in the National Policy Agency database involving private eyes, about 40 percent were over contract and fee troubles, and another 10 percent were related to alleged blackmailing by investigative firms, according to police.
Yamamoto said the figures must be only the tip of the iceberg because few victims are willing to make their cases public. According to police and industry sources, the No. 1 demand for private detectives is to probe extramarital affairs.
Little is known about what is really going on in the private detective industry, police officials said. Currently, 5,110 investigative firms are believed to operate across the country, but the figure is merely an estimate based on telephone directories and signboards on streets, police said.
The primary objective of the new law is to first bring these firms to light, said Yasuhiro Hanashi, an LDP lawmaker and former National Police Agency official.
“Some (lawmakers) are calling for tougher measures, such as a license system. But taking a step forward is a good thing,” Hanashi said.
The bill would require private detective firms to register with the government before doing business.
Currently there are no laws regulating the private investigation business. In countries such as the United States, Britain, Canada and Italy, private detectives must be licensed.
Under the LDP’s draft, a private detective firm would be obliged to destroy documents and data concerning their clients once investigations are finished.
A violation of the proposed law would draw a government order to suspend or close down their business, the draft says.
Major private investigation firms welcome the move, saying the law would add credibility to legitimate companies and thus benefit the entire industry.
“(A new law) will be a favorable wind for us. To be honest, we’d like (lawmakers) to enact legislation like this,” said Hiromichi Ohashi, who is in the planning and public relations section at Galu Agency Co., a major private detective company comprising 800 individual investigators nationwide.
Indeed, Nihon Chosagyo Kyokai, or the Japan Investigative Business Association, has long lobbied for enactment of a law to regulate the industry. The nonprofit public organization is the largest industry group, with 633 member companies. “(The bill) is the best measure to protect consumers and ensure proper investigative business,” the association said in a written comment to The Japan Times.