General Rules Private Investigators Need to Follow and Why
How Private Investigators Protect Rights in a Case
Even though in the movies private investigators seem to be able to get away with everything if they eventually find out the truth and expose the villain, in real life things are a bit (more) different. Private investigators need to respect the rights of the persons of interest. And this is not only for the sake of ethics! Evidence obtained without respecting the rights of the person under investigation can get dismissed, and the private investigators may face federal charges.
It’s true that private investigators have more freedom than the police, courts, and legislators when conducting investigations. However, they don’t have special powers! Especially when it comes to surveillance. They can’t do much more than the average person to dig up dirt or skip trace, someone. But they do have access to more legal resources and expert knowledge!
The laws that regulate a PI’s activity differ from state to state, but certain general rules have to be obeyed by all private investigators.
Find out the rules Private Investigators need to follow:
Never impersonate a police officer or a public official
Private investigators are not above the law. It might seem this way sometimes, but private investigators have to follow the law during each investigation. They must have a license and play by the (legal) rules if they want to be considered professional private investigators and have credibility.
So, no, a private investigator can’t impersonate law enforcement or a public official. However, they are allowed to lie to get someone to talk to them and pretend to be an old friend of the person of interest, a cable guy or other similar characters. It is not against the law as long as the PI doesn’t legally compel someone to talk to them or to provide legal documents, like financial or phone records, social security numbers, etc.
We don’t know why most fictive private investigators carry with them a little trespassing kit and break into someone’s house without thinking twice about the consequences! In real life, private investigators are absolutely and 100% not allowed to trespass – even if the house is unlocked. The same goes for the subject’s cars too.
However, most states allow private investigators to search through a person’s trash bin if the trash bin is not on their property anymore. It’s not a pleasant job, but a private investigator has to do it if they think something of value might hide in there.
Most states make it very clear that it is illegal to record a conversation without at least one of the party knowing. So wearing a wire and recording the conversation is illegal even for a private investigator. Per consequence, intercepting phone conversations, texts or emails falls into the same category of “not allowed.”
However, it is not illegal to eavesdrop on someone’s conversation. Private investigators are free to follow someone and sit close to them so they can listen to their conversation. That’s a common technique for uncovering a cheating spouse.
Never take photos behind the subject’s closed doors
Private investigators are allowed to take as many photos as they want as long as the subject of their investigation is outside, on the public domain. There is no expectation of privacy there.
The moment the person of interest steps on their property, in their house, in their backyard or anywhere else that’s considered private property, the photo shoot needs to stop.
Never hack into…anything
Whether we’re talking about phones, computers, email or social media accounts, private investigators have no right to hack into any of them. Once again, it might be fun to do it in the movies, but in real life, private investigators need to find alternate ways to search for information.
Never use GPS… unless you receive permission
That’s tricky but not impossible! Private investigators are not allowed to use GPS to track a car. Of course, the law varies from state to state, and there are states where GPS is legal to use as long as the vehicle’s owner permits you.
At first, it might seem impossible, but it’s not! For example, a husband suspects that the wife is having an affair and the wife uses his car to drive around. The husband can hire a PI and approve the use of GPS on that car because he is the rightful owner.
Since a private investigator has as many rights as the average Joe when it comes to investigating a person, it’s quite fascinating to see them at work using all their resources, knowledge, passion, and creativity to solve cases.