How Far Can Surveillance Legally Go in Private Investigation?

How Far Can Surveillance Legally Go in Private Investigation?

One of the biggest and most important questions around the hiring of a Private Investigator is always the length to which surveillance strategies can actually be deployed in a case, while staying within the law. It is a perfectly valid question because, while anyone considering hiring a Private Investigator clearly needs help with a difficult situation, breaking the law to do so only creates more problems. Whether you are dealing with the possibility of infidelity, or are trying to catch a corporate criminal out, incurring legal issues for yourself is entirely counter-productive.

Beyond that, it is vital to confirm exactly what surveillance can achieve before parting with your hard-earned cash. This is a simple case of managing expectations – there is no point hiring a Private Investigator to undertake a surveillance job, only to find that the extent of the surveillance is inadequate for your purposes. You need to know, for sure, exactly how far your Private Investigator can go, so you can be confident that they will find a swift resolution to your case. This is also an effective way of weeding out unscrupulous operatives in the field of Private Investigation. If a Private Investigation firm is willing to break the law in the pursuit of your case, then you should not hire them.

The impact of data protection on the use of surveillance

It is data privacy law that essentially restricts the use of surveillance within the U.K. The use of surveillance is considered an invasion of privacy, and its deployment is therefore strictly governed and limited by legislation. This is an important point to remember because the Private Investigation industry is unregulated, which means that operatives and firms working in this field are required to abide by general data protection laws that include the use of information gathered using surveillance.

The main items of legislation that relate to Private Investigators are the U.K Data Protection Act, the EU General Data Protection Regulation, and the U.K General Data Protection Regulation. This means that, in all information gathering activities including surveillance, Private Investigators are legally required to apply a three-part Legitimate Interests Assessment (LIA). This asks the operative to determine whether there is a legitimate purpose for the information gathering, whether it is necessary, and whether the interests of all parties are balanced.

In other words, when it comes to surveillance, Private Investigators must be able to show that the gathering of a particular type of data is the only workable option, and that it is not possible to collect that data in any other way. The balancing of the interests of all parties means the Private Investigator must be able to demonstrate that the target of the investigation will suffer no irreparable harm because of the use of surveillance data. The LIA process must also be comprehensively documented in support of any surveillance operation undertaken by a Private Investigator.

The legalities of surveillance

The boundaries of legal surveillance rest upon the idea of ‘reasonable use.’ This relates closely to the Legitimate Interest Assessment that is required for all surveillance operations, but also to the specific application and retention of that information, as well as the qualifications of those collecting it. In conjunction with the Legitimate Interests Assessment, the legalities of surveillance can be broadly categorised as follows:

  • Types of legal surveillance
  • Employee video monitoring in public areas of the workplace
  • Personal camera recording for protection of self
  • Security cameras on domestic or commercial premises
  • Tracking own vehicles
  • Tracking a vehicle owned by someone else, if there is no other option and the tracker is placed on the outside of the vehicle while it is in a public place
  • A parent tracking their own child for safety purposes
  • Tracking the movements of employees as part of a criminal or fraud investigation
  • Recording images or sound in public areas (though CCTV that records sound must be clearly signposted as such)
  • Recording images or sound in commercial spaces, with the authorisation of the owner
  • Recording images or sound in your own home
  • Businesses recording phone calls for performance management or security purposes
  • Monitoring activity on a workplace computer network or phone system, when authorised by the owner
  • A parent monitoring the internet activity of their own child
  • Deploying counter-surveillance to determine if monitoring is taking place and, if so, by whom.

Types of illegal surveillance

  • Any type of recording in spaces where people have a reasonable right to privacy, such as bathrooms or changing rooms – unless expressly authorised by law enforcement
  • Breaking into a vehicle or property to place an unauthorised recording or tracking device
  • Recording the phone calls of other people without notification
  • Monitoring the personal devices of employees
  • Deploying counter-surveillance against a government security service

Any individual or organisation collecting information that can be used in the identification of a person is required to be registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure adherence with data protection laws. This is the necessary qualification for that type of case. Adherence with data protection laws includes strictly following guidelines surrounding the retention of the data – both in terms of storage time and means of storage.

The most significant distinction in surveillance is between public and private spaces. In public, broadly speaking, there is no reasonable right to privacy. Actions can be seen and conversations can be overheard. When individuals are in a space considered to be private – inside their own property, or in a toilet, changing room, or bathroom, for example – then surveillance is likely to be considered illegal, unless undertaken with the authorisation of government or police. So, in terms of legal opportunities to gather information, this must generally be undertaken in public spaces, with a Legitimate Interests Assessment completed accordingly.

Surveillance by a Private Investigator

There are a number of situations that might give rise to a need for surveillance. In a business setting, you may have suspicions that an employee is engaged in corporate espionage, commercial sabotage, ‘fake’ illness, or other kinds of theft. In a personal context, you may have concerns about criminal activity at or around a property you own, suspicions about an infidelity, or even suspicions that you yourself are being covertly monitored. In each of these circumstances, a professional and reputable Private Investigator can deploy a surveillance operation that is conducted entirely within the parameters of the law – that is, the types of legal surveillance permitted under the U.K GDPR, the E.U GDPR, and the U.K Data Protection Act.

With Private Investigation firms, once you have established that they are a team that operates within the law, the key lies in their technological know-how. A skilled, experienced, and professional Private Investigator will be able to resolve any case, within the law, using the most up-to-date, cutting-edge technology available. This includes software, cameras, microphones, and vehicle trackers, among other equipment. Expert personnel will understand which type of technology should be deployed, and in which way, to gather the information needed for a swift and efficient resolution. This ensures that the data collected is not only comprehensive in nature but is also presented in a way that makes it admissible as evidence in any court proceeding. Setting the bar at such a height ensures that any lesser requirement is easily met and exceeded.

OpSec Solutions is a renowned Private Investigation firm that fits the bill. With a decade of evidence to back up the claim, this team consistently meets the highest standard for registration with the Information Commissioner’s Office, as well as earning full accreditations from the Association of British Investigators, the Institute of Professional Investigators, and the U.K Professional Investigators Network. This means that, when engaging the services of OpSec Solutions for your surveillance case, you can do so in the full confidence that these experts will find the truth using methods and techniques that are entirely legal.

Drawing personnel from law enforcement, military and corporate backgrounds, OpSec Solutions is able to deploy a wide range of state-of-the-art technology across mobile, static, electronic, and counter-surveillance situations. Moreover, with premises in both London and Manchester, OpSec Solutions is able to provide operatives across the United Kingdom in a cost-effective way – saving you time and money and getting the very best experts on your case.

Perhaps most importantly of all, OpSec Solutions will keep their surveillance strategies fully covert, meaning that the target of the operation will never know they are being surveilled. This is vital for success, as the target of a surveillance operation is likely to change or edit their own behaviour if they so much as suspect they are being watched, recorded, or monitored. While Private Investigators are legally bound to file a report with the police if criminal activity is witnessed, the priority for the  OpSec Solutions team is always discretion and the preservation of privacy around the investigation at hand. This is achieved by strictly adhering to a company-wide code of ethics.

Call OpSec Solutions today to discuss the legalities of your surveillance case.

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