Updated: 2011-01-21 10:53
By Cao Li (China Daily European Weekly)
Firms chart new strategies as tighter rules make information gathering tougher
Wang Yu hides himself behind layers of clothes, scarf, mask, glasses and a hat, not because of the cold weather. For two weeks, he has been busy watching the gate of a small house across the street from morning till night. When the owner comes out, he follows him. Sometimes he also takes long detours to reach his destination. He is just a step away from accomplishing his mission of unearthing an underground network selling fake cigarettes.
Wang is one of the many private detectives in China, whose services are being increasingly sought by companies, individuals and others. His latest efforts are expected to help the industry and commerce bureau of Anshan in Northeast China's Liaoning province in its ongoing crackdown on fake goods.
Prior to this, Wang had to track the activities of a cheating husband in Beijing. His employer was the estranged 40-year-old wife of his target who needed evidence to support her divorce filing.
After he is done with the fake cigarette case, Wang will try to track down a missing teenager.
Despite the rising demand for private investigators, many of them are feeling the heat from law enforcement agencies and sometimes being even the subject of investigation.
Private investigators are often charged with violating privacy laws or using illegal methods and devices for investigations. Their activities have come under tighter scrutiny after a new criminal law that punishes trading in personal information came into effect.
Nothing personifies this better than the recent sentencing of 33-year-old Yuan Zheng. Yuan, a private investigator, will cool his heels in a Beijing prison during the Chinese New Year after getting a one-year prison term from the Haidian District People's Court.
Yuan set up Dongfang Mosi Business Investigation Co in June 2009 along with Yong Zhengde, a 36-year-old who can barely write his own name. They collected debts, probed infidelity cases and collected personal information. Secret cameras were also discovered during a search of their offices.
Last year, the duo were charged with illegal possession of personal information based on the revised criminal law implemented in late 2009.
"This is a new crime," says Zhang Peng, a judge with the First Criminal Court, which tried the case. Of the six cases he tried in 2010 for the crime, two involved private detectives.
"They illegally obtained personal information like bank and residency details, assets and phone call records, and then sold them for money," he says.
According to law, only investigators from the police or State security can access personal information for the purpose of criminal investigations.
"Use of personal information must be controlled strictly. Otherwise, it can be used to facilitate crimes," says Zhang.
Notwithstanding the sentence Yuan still has some backers like his old client surnamed Chen. Welcoming the growing breed of private investigators like Yuan, Chen says that in litigation, people have to provide evidence to support their claims.
"Most of us do not have the wherewithal to collect the evidence on our own. The lawyers are also unwilling to undertake such a hard job," he says.
"Why not let them (private investigators) do it?" he said in an article in the Procuratorial Daily, published by the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the highest procuratorial organ in China and the legal supervisory organ of the State.
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