Jenée Tibshraeny at interest.co.nz highlights the difference in practice and monitoring between state-owned companies and the private insurance companies when they engage private investigators. See second half of article. Andrew Hooker, a lawyer, and specialist in the insurance area, has called in his articles for the use of private investigators by insurers to be brought into the insurance law reform debate.
Reading through the articles the complaints amount to the assertion that private investigators followed clients being investigated to the meetings with their lawyers. It is suggested that they may have attempted to learn about the content of the meetings. The details are sometimes murky in such cases, especially when the only information we have is a brief news item. But I am not sure exactly what the problem is here. If a private investigator follows someone, then they would follow them everywhere, and might find it hard to specifically exclude following them to the appointments with their lawyer. If they ask questions about what a person has been doing, if they strike someone who is forthcoming - like a nosy neighbour - they may get all the news the neighbour knows, and probably, some that the neigbour will make up too...
I just had a fascinating conversation with Jenée about the issues. I have to admit that even if legal, were I to discover that I had been followed, I would probably feel some outrage, and even feel a bit intimidated. That's a big reputation risk for an insurer - and unlike a state organisation, insurers can lose clients by acting in ways which damage their reputation. That alone is probably an effective brake on overuse of such a tool. On the other hand, people break rules and make unwise choices from time to time. I am also conscious of a current review of privacy legislation, and unsure exactly how that operates in cases such as these. There is scope for this to be worse than it looks, or not as bad as it reads right now.
But if PIs are doing something wrong, why should the use of private investigators be regulated under industry-specific law? If they have an incentive to use certain techniques with one client (an insurer) you can bet they use them with another (say, an employer). Surely, if they require further regulation, they are probably doing that for all their clients, and so this should be dealt with in privacy law.