Things Private Investigators Can't Do
An idea exists that private investigators can do everything that a police officer can just without the restrictions that are placed on police districts. However, PIs are notcops and therefore they need to follow a different set of legal rules than police officers. These are some of the things that private investigators can’t do that most people think they can:
1. Wiretapping Phones Without Consent
Wiretapping is an important tool in a private investigator’s arsenal, however, legally they cannot wiretap a phone without the consent of the individuals. Depending on the state, PIs are required to obtain consent from either one or both of the parties involved in the call.
In 38 states it is enough to have one party consent to the recording for the wiretap to be legal, however in 12 states a PI must obtain the consent of both of the individuals involved which in many cases may even defeat the purpose of the wiretap.
However, a wiretap without consent from either party is illegal in all states and the PI who performs one can be arrested if their crime is discovered. Furthermore, any evidence that has been discovered through an illegal wiretap may be inadmissible in court.
2. Recording Private Conversations
This is similar to the rules concerning wiretapping a phone. A PI is not legally allowed to record private conversations if neither party participating in the conversation is aware and consenting to the recording. In some states it’s enough to have the consent of one participant in the conversations, while others require that all individuals be informed.
This means that you would not be able to hire a PI with the purpose of recording conversations that you are not a part of. However, this rule only applies to private conversations, meaning that conversations that are happening in public areas are fair game. If the conversation is happening in public and is loud enough to be overheard or recorded, then it is perfectly legal for the PI to do either.
3. Trespassing on Private Property
This rule doesn’t apply only to private investigators. Both PIs and the law enforcement need permission from the owners before entering private property. For law enforcement, it is required that they have a warrant to enter the property, while PIs may only do so if they have consent of the owner.
There are strict laws regarding privacy and trespassing in most states, which means that you would not be able to hire a PI and have them break into somebody’s house in an attempt to gather evidence. Opening and reading a person’s mail is also illegal. A private investigator that does either of these things will most likely be prosecuted themselves.
4. Obtaining Protected Information
One of the main duties of private investigators is tracking down and gaining access to information. However, this doesn’t mean that they can hack into government, bank or hospital servers and use this information to build their case. Information that is protected by law, either state or federal, is off-limits to private investigators.
They may be able to find out where people have their accounts, which is useful in family matters if you’re trying to find any undeclared accounts, however they will not be able to see the bank account information or the balance in the account. They will only be able to tell you that the account exists.
This also applies to criminal records. PIs can legally inquire as to whether an individual has a criminal record, but they would not be able to gain access to the actual record. The data restrictions also apply to a person’s phone records, credit checks and court documents.
5. Making Arrests
PIs are not police officers; which means that they are not licensed to make arrests. If the results of their investigation uncover a crime, they will be able to make their client and the police aware of it, but they can’t arrest the guilty party themselves.
There can be exceptions to this rule, provided that the private investigator has been allowed to do so. This is only possible for specific arrests and whether or not the PI is granted permission to make the arrest depends on the specifics of the case, state laws as well the local police. Additionally, private investigators are allowed to make a citizen’s arrest in most states if they witness someone committing a federal crime.