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Licensed private detectives get green light in Korea

(123rf)
(123rf)
Licensed private detectives can do business in South Korea beginning Wednesday, following the recent revision of the Credit Information Use and Protection Act.

The National Police Agency announced Monday that it had inspected the country’s private detective agencies over the past year and provided on-site guidance so they can operate as part of a regulated system.

Previously, the police said, 12 companies were issuing 14 different private certificates. The police had ordered corrective action against companies that used misleading wording such as “official,” “nationally registered” or “approved by the National Police Agency” on their certificates.

“Public sentiment gradually grew over the last decade on the need for private detective service,” Lim Joon-tae, a professor from the department of police administration at Dongguk University, said during a phone interview with The Korea Herald.

Lim likened private detectives to real estate agents in Korea -- until 1983, that profession too was unregulated. “Before there were licensed real estate agents, we used to call them brokers, who depended heavily on traditional topography, their appearance dating back to the early 1900s. By giving them authorization and licenses, we now have a more trustworthy system with standardized guidelines. I think the same goes for private detectives. They should be qualified to do the job.”

The scope of private investigators’ activities is limited: They can help track down missing people, including runaway teens, but cannot collect evidence in criminal or civil cases. They cannot dig into cases that are currently under investigation or trial. They cannot access information that has not been disclosed publicly, in accordance with privacy laws.

During his election campaign, President Moon Jae-in pledged to introduce a licensing system for private detectives. In August 2020, the government announced that it would enact laws on the matter and establish a regulated system to create jobs and eliminate the potential harmful effects of unregulated detective work.

Meanwhile, Lim added, there seems to be a never-ending power struggle between the National Police Agency and the Justice Ministry on who is in charge of private detectives and their investigations. “It’s been nearly 20 years since this issue came out, but still, no full-fledged discussions have been taken at the legislative level.

“I think the NPA’s decision today will hopefully serve as a momentum in developing a separate law on private detectives, working for a safe landing by passing legislation.”

By Kim Hae-yeon (hykim@heraldcorp.com)
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