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What Private Investigators Cannot Do

Private agents monitoring CCTV footage, searching for criminal, discussion

Private investigators can be a vital asset for your civil litigation. A qualified PI can help you locate missing witnesses or parties, put together a financial profile of a key player, and gather evidence to support your case. There are certain lines that a PI cannot cross, however, without risking the loss of their license, criminal liability, and even liability for the client that hired the PI.

Read on for a discussion of several important acts that PIs cannot legally commit. For experienced private investigative services in California and worldwide, call Millennium Intelligence Agency for skilled, effective assistance.

PIs Cannot Trespass on Personal Property

Private investigators do not have any greater authority than private citizens when it comes to entering someone else’s property. PIs are not police, which means they cannot obtain a warrant to enter and inspect someone else’s private property; they need permission to enter.

Do not expect your PI to break into someone’s home or business, or rifle through someone’s safe or filing cabinet, in order to gather evidence. They can surveil, legally, from a public space, and collect evidence from public locations and public databases, but they would need permission to enter private property.

PIs Cannot Wiretap and Have a Limited Right to Record

Privacy has become a hot-button issue in recent years. While many people expect that PIs conduct surveillance by way of video surveillance and wiretaps, there are limitations on what an investigator can and cannot do without violating the law and opening themselves and their client up to possible liability.

First of all, PIs absolutely cannot wiretap anyone’s phone. While the police may be able to tap someone’s phone with a valid court-issued warrant, PIs lack that authority. Depending on the state, PIs may be able to record a phone call if they are one of the parties to that call, or if one of the parties to the call consents to the recording. In California, however, all parties must consent to the recording. Recording a call without every party consenting is illegal under California law.

California’s “two-party” consent (or, more accurately, “all-party” consent) rule applies to recording conversations in person as well. If the parties to a conversation have a reasonable expectation of privacy, then their conversation cannot be recorded unless all parties consent. Even a conversation held in public may still carry an expectation of privacy.

There are exceptions. Video or photographic recording of people meeting in public is permitted, so long as no audio is recorded. Moreover, there may be circumstances under which a conversation is so public that there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy. There are limitations on using a hidden video recording device, however. You can trust your hired PI to make an appropriate judgment call about what level of recording is permissible and how to get you the most valuable intel without running afoul of the law.

PIs Cannot Arrest Anyone

Private investigators are not police. They do not have the authority to detain anyone against their will. A PI can help you track down a missing witness, party, or other key player in your civil litigation, but once they’ve been found, the PI cannot bring that person back for you. Your PI can find the person’s location and/or contact information for the purposes of issuing a subpoena or other legal proceedings, but if the PI detained the individual, they would be committing a criminal act.

Even if a PI witnesses a criminal act being committed, they might be able to render assistance and contact the proper authorities, but they cannot effect an arrest on their own.

Get Help With Your Civil Litigation or Investigative Matter from a Thorough and Dedicated Investigative Firm

If you are performing due diligence in advance of a settlement, gathering evidence for a pending litigation, working to establish a financial profile, or trying to locate a missing party, Millennium Intelligence Agency is ready to offer you vital support. Call our diligent, professional legal investigative team today at 213-986-9888 for trusted and thorough intelligence-gathering services.

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