By politics.co.uk staff
Private investigators operating outside surveillance laws are enjoying a boom period of employment by councils, according to a civil liberties group.
Big Brother Watch put in freedom of information requests to find out how many local authorities were using private investigators and private investigation companies between 2010 and 2012.
It found 27 councils were sidestepping the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act by employing private firms to conduct their surveillance - as well as the Driving Standards Agency and the Department for Transport.
"The government has acted to control surveillance by local councils but this research shows more than ever before public bodies are using private detectives to do their snooping," Big Brother Watch director Nick Pickles said.
"The law is at breaking point and public bodies shouldn't be able to dodge the legal checks on them by using private investigators."
MPs have proposed a licensing system for private investigators and their companies which would require the registration of those undertaking investigative work.
But the coalition is yet to act and Big Brother Watch is calling on ministers to urgently reform existing laws.
It suggests amending the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to deter unauthorised surveillance by making it harder for evidence obtained via investigations to be used in court.