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Private investigation: What a man can do (and what he shouldn’t)

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To become a private investigator, a person must be licensed by the state. In addition to other requirements, licensing by the state often requires a certain measure of experience: this may be direct experience, such as with a law enforcement agency, or as a staff member working for a licensed private investigative firm. This requirement varies from state to stay, across a considerable margin; in Connecticut, for example, the minimum requirement is five years experience, while in Massachusetts – right next door – it’s three.

This is because a private investigator is neither an official law enforcement officer, nor is he restricted solely to the information which is available to a civilian. Likewise, he is not affected by certain restrictions available to either such individual, which makes him useful to both parties… as when he is called upon by a business owner to investigate the possibility of his partner’s embezzlement, or else he is retained by a legitimate law enforcement agency to help gather evidence in a case that’s gone cold.

Things a Private Investigator Can Do

Bear in mind that these lists are by no means exhaustive. They do, however, provide some good general information as to the guidelines regulating the activities of private investigators.

Listen in on a conversation:

A private investigator cannot legally record a conversation without the knowledge of any of the parties involved. This includes wiretapping. However, should they be in a position to overhear a conversation, they may listen in, and use the information to further their investigation. In an official capacity, a police officer often cannot do this, as they cannot “officially” be present on private property without permission.

Utilize records unavailable to the public:

Part of a private investigator’s licensing covers the fact that they are allowed to utilize certain records – including databases of property ownership, cellphone records, banking information, and other background checks – if they are pertinent to a case they are investigating.

Things a Private Investigator Cannot Do

There are private investigators in countries all over the world. In some cases, the law differs markedly as to what a private investigator is allowed to do, but the following requirements – from the United States – are generally applicable.

Impersonate:

Specifically, a private investigator cannot impersonate a member of an official law enforcement agency. In most states, and around the world, he is also barred from impersonating a clergy-person. There may be additional guidelines as well; you will need to check the laws in your state of residence to be certain.

Improper background checking:

A private investigator has access to a wide variety of sensitive personal information. Often, a private investigator can obtain banking and phone records with regards to the subject of an ongoing investigation. However, they cannot do so spuriously; they must be able to demonstrate that the records they are obtaining are pertinent to an active ongoing investigation.

Trespassing:

A law enforcement officer cannot go on private property in any official capacity without a warrant. However, a private investigator can. What they cannot do is literally trespass – meaning that they are subject to the same laws as every private citizen: once they have been warned off of private property, whether by a sign or verbally, they must leave it immediately or risk facing criminal charges.


Picking a lock to gain entry is trespassing, and will land a PI in some serious hot water.

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