What can a surveillance investigator legally do in the UK?

With an increase in the use of private investigators in the UK, there is understandably some confusion around what a surveillance company can legally do. With TV and film dramatising private investigators and the work they do; many people are under the impression that investigators have a level of power similar to that of the police. This is simply not true. They have no extra powers of arrest and have to abide by all UK laws.

This impression of ‘extra powers’ has not been helped by the surveillance industry being unregulated, however, any private detective or private investigator that specialises in surveillance services are bound by the laws and legislation governing investigative powers (Investigatory Powers Act 2016) and the Data Protection Act which regulates the handling, storage, and use of personal data. The latter is particularly pertinent when collecting surveillance evidence and information on a suspect.

To ensure any surveillance footage is usable in a court of law, it must have been obtained by legal means, should be clear and concise and demonstrating what is going on and any surveillance reports should be easily understandable with clear-cut language and no room for any ambiguity. This makes sure that any evidence is likely to be accepted by a judge and can be used to help a case, either in criminal or civil proceedings.

As well as damaging a case against a suspect, if evidence is submitted that has not been collected by legal means, any private investigator will be subject to a criminal investigation themselves and their client may also find themselves facing charges, so it is important to understand what a surveillance investigator can and cannot do in the UK. If at any point your private detective offers to break the law during the course of an investigation, we would recommend cutting all contact and going straight to the police.

So, what surveillance can be carried out in the UK?

What a surveillance 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 and survey 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. 
  • Static 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 or video evidence of any wrongdoing. The benefit of this surveillance technique is the ability for a private investigator to provide a full report of the location in question, including photos, videos, vehicle details and timings. This can give you actionable evidence and is particularly useful for proving subletting, fly-tipping, the breaking of custody arrangements and benefit fraud.    
  • Background surveillance 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 to help identify any security breaches.  
  • Electronic Monitoring and forensics: Private investigators can monitor activity on a workplace computer network or work phone system when authorised by the owner/company and under certain circumstances, they 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 confidential 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. Although this applies more to close protection than surveillance, it is always worth
  • 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 and should not form part of any surveillance methods.
  • Arrest someone: Private investigators have no power to arrest someone for wrongdoing during the course of any surveillance investigation.
  • 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. This is especially important when it comes to surveillance.

Surveillance from OpSec Solutions

Here at OpSec Solutions, we understand that any surveillance must be conducted in full accordance with UK law. 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 quality surveillances services provided by us, you have peace of mind that our experts will not only do their best to collect actionable evidence during the course of an investigation but that all our private investigative services, methods and techniques are carried out ethically, legally and with full confidentiality and compliance.

All our agents are highly trained in all aspects of surveillance, so you rest assured you have a professional team of experts in your corner, drawn from military, police, and corporate backgrounds. This range of expertise ensures they can provide the correct surveillance skills for any specific type of private investigation. We will also match your agent or team to the location you are in, so you know that if you are based in London for example, you get surveillance services London.

When it comes to surveillance, we know that no case or investigation is the same, which is why here at OpSec we don’t take a fixed approach to surveillance services. We know that every case has its own requirements and complexities – whether it is a long-term static project or dynamic mobile surveillance that needs operatives in various locations. Therefore, the best service we can provide you, is a fully inclusive, bespoke package comprising all the investigative solutions you need. We will have an in-depth consultation with you to find out all your requirements and then put together a plan of attack with clear methodology. Crucially, all our private investigation packages come with custom pricing that we will be completely transparent about from start to finish.   So, if you want to know more about the private investigator services we provide, including surveillance, and want to know how we could help you, then please contact us today using our contact form on the website or call us on 0844-664-1125.

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