Hollywood has created an image of private investigators(PI) having unlimited resources and great power when it comes to finding out information. In reality, PIs abide by ethical and legal standards in order to effectively do their job.


What Can’t They Do?

They aren’t able to access every type of records: Many types of records such as mental and physical health or cell phone records are closed to the public eye, including private investigators. These records are protected by state and federal statutes and cannot be obtained without a court order or subpoena.

They aren’t above the law:
Even though private investigators are privy to some information that the general public is not, they are still required to abide by the law and definitely cannot arrest someone. Private investigators are also not allowed to impersonate a police officer, which includes carrying a badge, wearing a uniform, or using a logo or phrasing that would indicate they are associated with law enforcement.

Tamper with Mail:
Tampering with mail in any way is illegal. If the client is looking for a relationship between someone, and has taken mail that is addressed to their spouse at the client’s place of residence, it is still illegal to go through the mail as it is not addressed to the client.

Wiretap without consent:
Abiding by the law always prevails when it centers around the variety of ways in which someone can obtain information. While it can be seemingly easy to wiretap someone’s phone, it generally requires at least one party’s consent to do such.

Place a GPS Tracker on a vehicle without consent:
GPS trackers are often used on vehicles owned by a business for purposes of employee accountability and fleet management, but using it on someone whose car you don’t have legal ownership of is another story. Depending on state and local laws of where the private investigator will be conducting business, you will either need written consent from the subject or legal action approved by judge in order for the GPS tracker to be installed. In many situations, if you have ownership over the car or if you are engaging in monitoring your child’s behavior (and they are a minor), this could be done in an easier manner. These legal actions are put into place to reduce the amount of privacy concerns that can arise with someone being tracked without their knowledge or consent.

They won’t ever guarantee results will be found, or the results you want will be found:
Some may ask what the point is in hiring a private investigator if the results can’t be guaranteed? Any ethical private investigator will never guarantee their results, but will always promise to make a diligent effort. While they do have access to a variety of tools that aren’t available to the public, results can never be guaranteed because many of the physical observations are simply observations and social media tools can only produce so much information.


What’s Beyond Their Control?

Social media won’t tell everything:  Unfortunately, it is possible to have strict privacy settings that don’t allow for easy access to everything someone posts on social media. Private Investigators will work diligently to look through various types of social media accounts in order to see what posts, location tags and other details can help find further information.

It’s not easy to prove anything based on suspect:
 A frequently requested service involves people who may want to prove a romantic relationship between their current or former spouse and another person. That may be very hard to prove and could involve many hours of surveillance that doesn’t end in providing any definitive proof. It is important for a prospective client to know exactly what needs to be proven, and understand the challenges of trying to obtain that proof.


By: Sarah Masa-Myers

Sources: DGR Legal, Pinow