What is a Private Investigator Allowed to Do?

Private Investigator

Before you hire a Private Investigator, it is important to have an understanding of what exactly these professionals are allowed to do in the U.K. In order to understand that, we must first acknowledge the fact that the Private Investigation industry is unregulated by the U.K government. This may sound unnerving from the perspective of a potential customer, but the lack of official regulation has actually ensured that the Private Investigation industry oversees itself through its own official bodies. It is these organisations that provide the standards and guidelines to which Private Investigators should adhere. Chief among these is the Association of British Investigators, which was formed in 1913, and has been lobbying U.K governments for regulation since the 1950s.

There are a number of factors influencing government delays on the subject of regulation and licensing of the Private Investigation industry, including the operation of state intelligence services and law enforcement, and the findings of the Leveson Inquiry, released in 2012. As a consequence, the Private Investigation industry is often plagued with rogue operatives who lack the required training and fail to uphold ethical standards. For this reason, the real, professional Private Investigators within the industry are meticulous in maintaining their skills and accreditations to bodies and associations that provide stringent oversight.

Working within the law

While it is technically unregulated, the nature of the activities undertaken in Private Investigation is subject to a number of items of legislation. The Human Rights Act 1998 is one such example, and is currently enjoying a high profile in the media courtesy of the imminent Brexit Transition. This Act stems from the European Convention on Human Rights, and so its future in U.K law is uncertain. Article 8 of this Act enshrines in law your right to respect for private and family life, however.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 relates to the use of surveillance, the sharing of data, and of covert human intelligence, while the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 includes further privacy safeguards. More recently, the Data Protection Act 2018 ushered in the era of General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, and changed the way we all regard the handling of data – and of personal, sensitive data in particular.

Professional Private Investigators who value their accreditations to industry bodies take all of these specific items of legislation into consideration when working in their field, along with the general laws of the land. This means that work undertaken by real Private Investigators is entirely legal and, most importantly, all evidence gathered in such activities is admissible in court.

So, what can Private Investigators actually do?

Private Investigators are not law enforcement officials, so there are some investigative tools that are unavailable to them. They cannot obtain warrants to allow access to private spaces, for example, but there is a broad enough range of legal investigative strategies to allow them to achieve the results you need.

  • Documentation – Private Investigators are able to access all public records, including criminal records and unsealed court documents. While private documents, including credit reports, are off-limits without the express permission of the owner, public records usually provide sufficient information to enable thorough background checks, and can even help identify the location of an individual.
  • Electronic surveillance – Access to electronic devices must be authorised by the owner, which means this is not always possible when the operation in question is a personal matter. However, in business, the employer is usually the owner of electronic devices within the business environment, which means access to the system can be authorised, and information about activities within the system can be legally gathered. This is also applicable to the tracking of company vehicles. The business owns the vehicles and can authorise their GPS tracking by a Private Investigator. However, in those cases, it is important that the employee is made aware of the possibility that company vehicles can be tracked at any time.
  • Mobile and static surveillance – Laws regarding trespassing, stalking and harassment apply here, which means that a Private Investigator must operate within strict guidelines to avoid becoming the subject of legal accusations or investigations themselves. It is, for example, legal for a Private Investigator to follow a person throughout public space but, it is illegal to do so in a way that infringes on the personal freedoms of any individual, or makes an individual feel intimidated, humiliated, or harassed. This is where the training, skills, discretion, and cutting edge technology of a professional Private Investigator becomes vital.
  • Asking questions – In many cases, the simple act of asking the right people the right questions can provide a vast amount of information. Here, Private Investigators are bound by legislation that prevents the impersonation of others, including law enforcement officials, and the use of coercion. Again, carefully honed skills and experience are invaluable when it comes to asking questions of members of the public.

How does this help me?

The legal bounds within which professional, accredited Private Investigators operate can be successfully applied to a wide range of scenarios. For example, when we think of Private Investigators, we often think about infidelity and proving our suspicions about an unfaithful spouse. While this is certainly well within the scope of Private Investigation services, it is important to consider the wider context of such a situation, and how such evidence can be used.

Quite apart from the simple confirmation of whether a partner is cheating, and the consequences that has for the status of the relationship, there are also divorce proceedings to consider. These can include the need for asset discovery, lifestyle surveillance to confirm the need for spousal maintenance, and the uncovering of vital information for custody disputes.

If you need to locate an individual, these legal Private Investigation techniques can provide a satisfactory resolution. It may be that a loved one is missing, or that you are hoping to track down a biological relative after you learning that you were adopted. But, Private Investigators can use those same techniques to track down debtors, or even rogue traders who have taken your money and failed to deliver the quality of service you were led to expect.

In business, as well as tracking down debtors, Private Investigators can help you ensure that your employees are working when they should, and where they should. This can be invaluable in tackling absenteeism and moonlighting, and goes a long way to helping to protect your organisation from breaches of data and intellectual property theft. These techniques, skills, and experience can also be deployed within the digital systems of your company to deal pro-actively with the threat of cyber crime, and also to help you handle the aftermath of any digital attack. The full range of surveillance methods can also be used to deal with incidents of fraud, including false insurance or benefits claims, as well as tenancy issues in property lettings.

While Private Investigators work strictly within the bounds of stalking and harassment legislation, the skills and techniques they use can help you if you yourself are being subjected to stalking or harassing behaviour. Counter surveillance methods can determine the presence and identity of a stalker, and gather evidence and intelligence that is admissible in any legal proceedings that may follow.

Due to the nature of Private Investigation and the skill sets and technologies it requires, professional Private Investigators are also able to assist with the ethical management of risk. This applies to the planning and implementation of events, as well as the protection of assets, corporate and residential sites, and the close protection of individuals. The benefits for these situations is that professional Private Investigators who hold accreditations to bodies providing oversight and training are fully investigated and vetted themselves. Typically having backgrounds in law enforcement, military, government, and corporate environments, these Private Investigators can bring a wealth of experience to bear on your specific case.

Accreditation is key

The lack of government regulation of the Private Investigation industry means that real, verifiable accreditation is key. Private Investigators who are authorised to display the badges of organisations such as the Association of British Investigators, the Professional Investigators Network, and the Institute of Professional Investigators are required to uphold U.K. law throughout their activities, while also adhering to strict standards and guidelines.

It means that the holder of the accreditation knows the law, and delivers results that are legal and admissible in court. Moreover, it means that those results are obtained with safety in mind, as well as the requirements of the law, and that your Private Investigator knows how to do their job while also keeping themselves, their clients, and their targets out of harm’s way. It is the assurance that your Private Investigator will use whatever legal means are necessary to find the information you need – safely, and in a timely fashion.

OpSec Solutions is one such Private Investigation company and, with offices in Manchester, Cheshire, and London, is able to cover the entire United Kingdom. Where cases require international travel, this is also undertaken, and OpSec Solutions personnel are highly skilled at conducting business overseas. With a long and varied list of private and corporate clients, the fully accredited OpSec Solutions is always available to discuss your Private Investigation needs. Call today to arrange your consultation.

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