Private Investigators – What Can And Can’t They Do


Whilst it is not illegal to hire private Private Investigators – What Can And Can’t They Doinvestigators, there are nevertheless things that a private investigator is not permitted by law to do.  A good private investigator is aware of exactly what those things are for the jurisdictions in which they operate.  But if you’re considering hiring one, here are some of the things they are not allowed to do:

A private investigator, or anyone else for that matter, is not permitted to impersonate a member of the police force or any other law enforcement agency.  This includes carrying a badge, wearing the uniform, logo or insignia of any law enforcement agency or otherwise creating a misleading impression either by their behavior or their clothing, that they are a law enforcement officer.

Can Private Investigators Tap Telephone Lines?

Private investigators are not allowed to tap telephone lines or record telephone conversations without the knowledge and consent of one or both of the parties on the line, depending on state law.  The majority of states require one person at least to have consented and the remaining states require both.

When it comes to entering someone’s property, a private investigator in most cases must have the property owner’s permission to do so legally.  And obviously it goes without saying that breaking and entering is against the law, even for a private investigator!

If a private investigator wants to run a license plate check they usually have to have a legally valid reason, such as obtaining information for a court proceeding or for investigative purposes, for requiring it.

Opening, destroying or tampering with mail to obtain personal information about an individual is a federal offense so that’s obviously out of bounds for a private investigator too.

A private investigator can obtain access to certain types of protected information if they have a subpoena that gives them authority to do so or if the individual they’re investigating grants them permission.  This ruling covers the following types of information:

  • Private credit information. If a private investigator wants to run a credit check on someone, they not only must have that person’s permission or a subpoena but they also have to have a valid legal reason for needing to run the check.
  • Bank records and financial accounts. Whilst it’s easy enough to establish which bank or banks a person uses, getting access to their account information requires the account owner’s permission or a subpoena.
  • Private phone records. As is the case with bank records, it’s easy enough to obtain someone’s phone number and phone company but that’s all.  To get access to their private phone records as well requires a court order or subpoena.
  • Sealed criminal records. Private investigators do not have the authority to access these records.

Other things that private investigators cannot do by law to obtain information include bribery, misrepresentation, deceit and harassment.  The penalties for private investigator’s that violate these federal, state or local laws include the strong probability of losing their licence to operate.

So if you are thinking about hiring a private investigator, make sure they know all the applicable laws and are abiding by them.  Breaking the law to obtain information and evidence will generally, at the very least, cause that information to be disallowed in court regardless of how incriminating or substantial it might be.  Not to mention the penalties involved in breaking the law….

This article is provided as a courtesy to our readers and followers interested in law related topics. Nothing on this site should be construed as legal advice, and if you’ve been arrested for a DUI we recommend consulting with a DUI Lawyer in Los Angeles, not the internet!

Private Investigators – What Can And Can’t They Do
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Originally posted 2016-06-04 14:25:40.