What Can A Private Investigator Do Legally In The UK?

What Can A Private Investigator Do Legally In The UK?

As private investigations and the security industry are, by their very nature, wrapped in confidentiality and secrecy, it can often be hard to determine fact from fiction when dealing with a private investigator or detective.

Add to the fact that the private investigation industry has no official government regulation and is only controlled by a handful of trade organisations and associations determined to protect the public from fraudulent private detectives and protect the reputation of the creditable agencies, and you have the perfect melting pot for wrongly held beliefs in what a private investigator or private detective is legally allowed to do in the UK.

Being a private investigator requires a great deal of responsibility but equally, the public should be fully informed of the limits and scope of a private investigation, which helps weed out the unprofessional businesses operating fraudulently and helps to manage client expectation.

So, what can a private investigator do legally in the UK?

What a private investigator CAN do

A private investigator or private detective will only ever use or carry out the legal methods outlined below to help with their investigations. These follow the rule of UK law, but private operators in other countries may have a different set of laws and guidelines to follow.

  • GPS Vehicle Tracking: Private investigators are legally allowed to track vehicles using GPS as long as the owner of a vehicle, or fleet of vehicles, has consented to the tracking of those vehicles using state-of-the-art GPS technology. This allows Private Investigators to gather evidence in cases of suspected vehicle misuse, moonlighting, and corporate sabotage.
  • Surveillance: Private investigators can covertly monitor and follow a person of interest or vehicle as long as they do so from public property. They are also allowed to take photographic evidence of any wrongdoing.
  • Background Checks: With social media ever more prevalent, history and background checks are often key sources of information for private investigators. They can access public and business records as well as private databases they have permission for.
  • Counter Surveillance: If you believe you are being targeted, either personally or professionally, private investigators are allowed to use counter surveillance techniques and technologies such as blockers and electronic sweeps.
  • Monitoring: Private investigators can monitor activity on a workplace computer network or work phone system when authorised by the owner/company.
  • Technological forensics: Under certain circumstances, private investigators can carry out mobile phone and computer forensics to recover deleted information.

What a private investigator CANNOT do

  • Mishandle Data: Private Investigators are bound by the rules of the Data Protection Act, as enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office. This ensures that private information gathered by Private Investigators – the processing of personal data – happens in accordance with law that provides a reasonable expectation of privacy. 
  • Trespass: Private investigators cannot trespass on private property during the course of an investigation, nor carry out surveillance whilst on private property without the owner’s permission.
  • Carry a firearm: Due to UK firearms laws, the carrying of guns is illegal and carries heavy penalties. Private investigators are also not allowed to carry weapons such as tasers, batons or pepper spray. This also applies to any overseas close protection officers that are here on business.  
  • Access someone’s mail: This includes both physical post and e-mails. Private investigators are not allowed to open your letters nor hack into your email account as this is an invasion of privacy.
  • Arrest someone: Private investigators have no power to arrest someone for wrongdoing.
  • Recording: Private investigators are not allowed to record phone calls from other people without notification nor record anywhere people have an expectation of privacy, such as bathrooms or changing rooms.

Unlike the police. private investigators have no specific powers allocated to them simply because of their job. However, using their surveillance training and experience, they can legally search and examine public records and publicly available social media accounts as well as provide covert surveillance. Often they will use innovative technology to identify the digital footprint left by an individual, and collect any evidence needed to take the situation further.

As there is no industry specific legislation private investigators are bound by, it can be hard for people to know who to turn to when they need to investigate a matter. Most reputable private investigative firms or private investigators will be a member of at least one of the industry trade bodies such as the Association of British Investigators (ABI) who hold their members to an ethics code. Although not legally bound, having an ethics code can reassure clients that they take their role and responsibilities seriously, and if at any point a private investigator offers to break the law during the course of an investigation then it needs to be reported to both the police and any organisation they are associated with.

Private investigations with OpSec Solutions

We understand that the trust factor is invaluable when it comes to private investigations, especially in personal matters. You do not want to pay money for a private investigation only to become involved with illegalities or end up with zero court-admissible evidence.

With over 10 years of experience, OpSec Solutions have earned full accreditations from the Association of British Investigators, the Institute of Professional Investigators, and the U.K Professional Investigators Network. This means that, when employing any of the services provided by OpSec Solutions, you have peace of mind that these experts will find the truth and any private investigative services, methods and techniques are carried out ethically, legally and with full confidentiality.

As private investigators must collect information regarding the identification of a person, they are required to be registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure adherence with data protection laws. The team at OpSec Solutions consistently meet the highest standard for registration and take the guidelines around obtaining and the subsequent storage extremely seriously, this helps protect the business, the client and any evidence collected.

Want to know more about the private investigator services we provide, our state-of-the-art technology, and how we could help you? Then please contact us today.  

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