Alberta's Information and Privacy Commissioner Frank Work has ordered his office to investigate thehiring of private investigators by the province's Energy and Utilities Board (EUB).

Theenergy regulatorhired theprivate investigators in the spring during hearings into a planned 500-kilovolt power line between Edmonton and Calgary.TheEUB saidinvestigators werehiredfor security reasons, asthe boardwas concernedsome peopleopposed to the power line might threaten the safety of its employees at the hearing.

But landowners opposed to the power line said the EUB unfairly spied on them. Some of the landowners said the investigators listened to conference calls they had with their lawyers.

Wayne Wood,a spokesmanfor privacy commissioner, said the investigation,triggered by media reports, will start immediately.

"We have not yet received a formal complaint into our office, but the allegations were curious enough for the commissioner that he felt this should be one that he would investigate on his own accord," said Wood.

Wood said the investigation will focus on whether or not personal information was collected by phone or e-mail. The review will take about a month and will involve the utilities board, several landowners and the private investigators,Wood said.

Davis Sheremata, a spokesman for the board, said it welcomes the investigation as a way to resolve the allegations.

"This investigation is going to give us the opportunity to have an impartial, independent body look at the security measures we used in this hearing," said Sheremata.

Premier Ed Stelmach has defended the EUB's use ofprivateinvestigators for security reasons, but Energy Minister Mel Knight said he wants the EUB to explain its decision to use the investigators.

Landowners living near the proposed power line are concerned about possible health effects and have complained that the board has already decided to approve it.

In April, board staff said they were physically threatened in three separate incidents at a public hearing into the project. Afterward, the board decided to accept only written submissions and close the courtroom. Landowners were moved into a recreation centre near the courtroom to watch the proceedings on TV.

With files from the Canadian Press