Is it against the law to hire a private investigator?

11 Things that Private Investigators Can and Cannot Do

February 3, 2019

Over the last thirty years, Investigation Hotline has interacted with thousands of clients who have differing perspectives and ideas as to what private investigators are able to do within their trade. People are often misguided by movies and television shows they watch depicting private detectives as mysterious, gun toting spies that wreak havoc in the night. However, contrary to popular belief, licensed private investigators are unable to perform the majority of things that are portrayed in popular culture. Let’s dig into eleven things that private investigators can and can’t do.

  1. Trespass on other people’s property – Private investigators are sometimes permitted to enter the property of another person’s but they must exercise caution. A fine line exists between trespassing and breaking and entering which the licensed PI must walk carefully. In most situations, permission is required from the owner of a property before the PI can enter the premises.

  2. Wiretapping – In Canada, federal laws dictate that you must have the consent of at least one individual on a phone call in order to conduct a wiretap. This is quite similar to 38 states in America as well. Without consent of at least one involved party, private investigators risk breaking the law and being charged with a crime.

  3. Access to Bank Records – Licensed PIs are not usually able to legally obtain bank records unless they are working with an attorney. Private investigators, however, often leverage their research expertise to access and manipulate public databases to access the information they need.

  4. Work with the Police – At times, private detectives are put on retainer to give a second opinion on a police case. For example, if police officers investigate a suspected burglary and report that no forced entry was found, private citizens can hire a licensed PI for an alternative opinion. In cases like these, private detectives work with law enforcement as ultimately, both parties are in search of the same end result, the truth.

  5. Obtain Credit Information – Private investigators are not able to access private credit information of an individual. If they do so, they break the law and are subject to potential prosecution. The only instance when a licensed PI can obtain credit information is when they have a legal cause to run a credit check. Then can also access criminal and court documents when they are made public record.

  6. Retrieve Phone Records – Similar to credit and financial information, private investigators are unable to legally access another person’s phone records. These types of records are protected by telecommunications companies and both provincial and federal laws. Using investigative techniques, a PI may be able to uncover the subject’s phone number and phone carrier, and is fully within their legal rights to do so.

  7. Track Someone with GPS – Licensed private investigators can track a subject’s vehicle with GPS, depending on the circumstances. In Canada, if the PI has the permission of the owner of the vehicle that the subject is driving, GPS tracking may be legally use to locate and follow the car. This can be particularly helpful in cases of infidelity when the owner of a vehicle suspects their partner is cheating. However, if the automobile is owned by more than one party, the law is much less unclear and licensed PI’s need to exercise caution. In cases where an owner’s consent is not obtained, private detectives have no legal standing for tracking the vehicle with electronic devices.

  8. Hack into Electronic Devices – Contrary to public opinion, private investigators cannot hack any form of electronic device including phones, computers, email and social media accounts. This misconception stems from popular TV dramas that depict falsehoods and departures from reality. Even if a private detective knows how to hack someone’s electronic device or account, they run the risk of prosecution if caught and convicted. According to the law, the only time you’d be able to hack into someone’s device is if they gave you permission, and who in their right mind would do so?

  9. Search License Plate Numbers – Yes, private detectives are able to access and run plate numbers for specific investigative purposes. However, limits exist to when and how far this power can go. For example, a licensed PI cannot run a plate number simply because you’re curious about a particular individual. They must have legal justification before doing so.

  10. Find Information Online – Private detectives have expertise and a wealth of experience in research and routinely crawl for information through official records, a variety of public databases and the internet. They’re keenly aware of how to leverage social media, dating services and the world wide web to obtain information for a case. In fact, the information available on the most popular search engines such as Google and Bing only provide a glimpse into all of the information that’s available to a private investigator with a keen eye. Experienced PIs know where to look and how to access the information that they require, and are legally within their rights to do so.

  11. Acquire Medical Records – Private investigators cannot access medical records of other parties. They can, however, interview associates, friends and family of the subject to obtain information as to their medical history. In other words, if people are willing to share this information, a licensed PI will get it.

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