PIs have the skills and know-how to solve the seemingly unsolvable, but there are limits to our superpowers. Just like you, we must stay within the law. And on top of that, we adhere to strict ethical guidelines.
Here are some of the cases that will never take from a client, and what our investigators not allowed to do in the line of duty – No, it’s not about the money, it’s about our moral responsibility.
- Breaking and Entering or trespass private property.
Private property is just that – private. We’re not allowed to break and enter or go sneaking into someone’s property without consent. If you need us to go snooping, it has to be above board. We’re not going to break into a home or apartment because “they always leave the back window open.” Nor are we going to trespass into private property to see “what kind of activities they are doing behind closed doors.”
- Record someone in their home.
As an extension of the above, we also have to respect your right to privacy within a private residence. That means that we’re not allowed to record goings-on inside a private residence. If you’re in public, that’s a different matter, but we’re not going to install microphones or cameras inside a person’s home.
- Open someone else’s mail.
If it’s not addressed to us, we’re not allowed to open, take or destroy it. Why? Mail tampering is a federal offense, with serious penalties attached. We’re not going to risk our licenses, careers or records for the sake of material that wouldn’t be admissible in court anyway.
- Listen in or bug someone’s phone line.
Sure, we might get some juicy material from wiretapping a phone line. But we’d also get in trouble for it. If we’re to record or monitor a conversation, we need permission to do so. In some states, both people on the call need to provide consent. Now you know why telemarketers always inform you if a call is being recorded.
- Put a tracking device on someone’s car.
If the car in question is yours, then it may be legal to place a GPS device on the vehicle. If it’s partly owned by you, then legality becomes a bit more unclear. If it’s not your car, then it’s a no-go under privacy laws.
- Break into someone’s online accounts.
We use Google extensively in our day-to-day work. If we can find something in a public database, on social media or anywhere else public facing, it’s fair game. But we’re absolutely not allowed to hack into someone’s email, social media or other personal accounts. Nor can we log on to your computer or add spyware. Also, be aware that if your partner “left their password on a sticky note” and you use it to access their account, you may be breaking federal law.
- Break into someone’s offline accounts.
On a similar note, we’re not allowed to gain access to your bank and credit details or your phone records. If we have a warrant or your consent, that’s different, but otherwise we’re limited to the information we can find in public records. Privacy laws are very real things!
- Impersonate a police officer.
You’ve probably seen people get booked for this on TV. Pretending to be law enforcement is strictly against the law, and under no circumstances can we say that we’re a police officer or other law enforcement professional. That includes wearing the uniform, wielding the badge, or even using red and blue flashing lights.
That’s why a good PI will work by the book to ensure that all evidence is gathered in such a way that it can be used in court.