A New Westminster police officer is under investigation for allegedly illegally accessing police databases and sneaking that information to a private investigator, CBC News has learned.

The case was exposed by a newly-hired private eye who spotted the unethical conduct on his first day on the job with Lions Gate Investigations Group.

Adam Span, 30, was assigned to stake out a child custody case. After his partner spotted the target vehicle, he called in the license number.

Span was expecting it would take another week or two of old-fashioned detective work to connect the vehicle to an owner.

But instead, shortly afterwards, Span was surprised to get a text message back from his new boss identifying the owner of the vehicle.

Span was even more surprised to see the message also contained the target's date of birth, residential address and even confirmation he had no criminal record – all private information only the police should have had.

"My first thought was, 'Am I missing something here? How can we get this information without doing something illegally?'"

Manager admits information illegally obtained

It turned out Span's suspicions were right. Lion Gate Investigations managing partner Scot Filer admitted the information was illegally obtained, when Span challenged him.

Span quit immediately and with the help of his father, veteran private eye Tom Span, he filed complaints with the police and the Ministry of Justice's security program division, which oversees private investigators.

RCMP investigators traced the information to a New Westminster police constable, who is now under investigation for allegedly violating the B.C. Police Act by accessing personal information on the police computer system known as CPIC, and supplying it to Scot Filer.

Privacy laws control database access

Checking police databases is supposed to be for law enforcement purposes only.

Adam's boss Scot Filer worked for 30 years with the RCMP before becoming a private investigator.

Filer was also the head of ethics with the Private Investigators Association of B.C., and then the president, but he resigned shortly after the allegations came to light.

Filer didn't respond to CBC's request for an interview, but in a 2010 issue of Business in B.C. Magazine he is quoted saying,"As a P.I., you don't have…access to police databases…"

"The companies that hire us usually have no tolerance for cowboys that cross the line with privacy laws…," the story quoted Filer saying.

While the New Westminster officer involved could lose his or her job, Filer was fined $115 by B.C.'s Security Program Division for the incident because it was a first offence.

Span says that's really little more than a slap on the wrist.

"It sends a very bad signal. There is no deterrent," he told CBC News.

"We have rules and we have laws so this information doesn't come out, so my opinion is there's no point in having rules and laws if nobody has to follow them anyways."

Span and his father insist most private investigators in B.C. are ethical and play by the rules. Those who don't, they say, should face tougher penalties.

"In the age of personal identity fraud, your personal information is all you've got," Span said. "If the wrong people get a hold of your info, there is no telling where that's going to take you."

With files from the CBC's Eric Rankin