From finding a missing person to building a child custody case, we Private Investigators have an impressive set of skills to our names. But while we’ll do everything we can to crack your case, there are limits to what PIs can accomplish.
Some of those limitations are practical, while others are ethical – or legal! Here’s where your PI will draw the line during an investigation.
- Trespass on private property
Private investigators are bound by the same laws that you are. That means that we can’t enter a property illegally. Whether that’s breaking and entering through force or entering without an owner’s express consent, it’s a no from us.
- Tamper with your mail
Because the USPS is a federal agency, mail theft is a federal offense, and a serious one at that. So if it’s not addressed to us, it’s not our business. Just like you, we’re not allowed to open, read or destroy someone else’s mail – or tamper with it in any other way.
- Hack your private accounts
Private investigators use public databases, social media records and publically available metadata in our work all the time. But it’s illegal for us to hack into your computer, social networks, email accounts or phone records. We’re also forbidden from adding spyware or breaking passwords.
- Wiretap your phone line
We’re not allowed to listen in on your calls without consent. US law states that if we’re monitoring or recording a conversation, at least one party on the call has to give consent (that’s why telemarketers always ask!). Here in Connecticut,, both parties have to consent.
- Record you in your home
Private property is private property – which means you have a right to privacy inside it. While private investigators can track or listen in on what you’re up to in public, we’re not allowed to record conversations or activities inside a private residence.
- Witness Intimidation
Another fictional story line is the PI that bullies or bribes a witness into “forgetting” their testimony. We will never play that role- but we will work tirelessly to find witnesses to help bolster your case.
- Obtain private information
Bank account details, credit information and cell records are all private information. Private investigators can only access them with your consent – or a warrant to do so. If you have a phone number, we may be able to use a public database to find out the name and address of that number, but legally we can’t do more.
- Pretend to be an officer of the law
Impersonating law enforcement carries a charge of criminal impersonation. That’s why we’re not allowed to dress like or otherwise pretend that we’re a police officer or other law enforcement official. Note that in some states “impersonation” also includes using equipment commonly used by police officers – such as red and blue flashing lights.
- Use entrapment to obtain proof
Entrapment is where you actively create the conditions for someone to commit a certain offense such that you actively encourage – and then charge them with doing it. As private investigators, we’re not allowed to entrap people into the activities that we’re investigating them for. This law usually applies to law enforcement officers, but can also apply to those acting in accordance from such officers. Even if such activities might be legal in a particular instance, they’re probably not admissible in court.
- Simply hand our evidence in to the court
Speaking of admissibility, that applies to everything we do. To submit evidence in court, we need to attend court so that it can be determined that our evidence has been legally obtained. This is done under oath, and may involve cross-examination for verification. Evidence is generally used to support our testimony – not to replace it!
So there you go. While TV and the movies may make it seem that the laws don’t apply to us, private investigators stringently adhere to the law – and our own code of ethics. Even if we were to break these laws in order to obtain evidence, that evidence wouldn’t be admissible in court anyway.
After all, helping uphold the law involves staying with in it!