Corporate representatives, individuals, and even attorneys hire private investigators for several reasons. Some of these may include uncovering insurance fraud, relationship infidelity, or hidden assets that may be crucial to a case. Make no mistake about it, though. Hiring a PI does not fall within the realm of “normal.”
While most people can appreciate the circumstances under which the services of a private investigator may be required, not many consider what it would feel like to be the target of such an investigation.
What if someone has hired a PI to look into your private affairs? What can you do about it? Can you sue someone for hiring a private investigator? The answers to these questions aren’t as straightforward as you might expect. Here’s what you need to know.
What Does a Private Investigator Do
To understand your legal rights against a PI, you first need to understand what exactly it is they do. You need to differentiate between what you imagine a private investigator does versus what they actually do.
PIs are often retained by their clients to tail crime suspects or individuals believed to have been involved in unethical activities. However, it’s important to mention right off the bat that a private investigator cannot break the law while investigating their case.
For instance, the law does not permit them to break into private property to obtain evidence of wrongdoing – contrary to what you may have seen in action movies. Any evidence they obtain unlawfully is inadmissible in a court of law. If they are found to have broken the law to recover the evidence in question, they may face legal repercussions for engaging in such conduct.
More often than not, a PI is hired to do case-related work for legal or professional clients. Their work would involve searching, researching, and carrying out surveillance on a target within the legal confines of the law.
A private investigator may be granted special access through their client to allow them to gather evidence of wrongdoing without breaking the law to do it. PIs possess the appropriate tools, resources, and expertise to assess and analyze the information they collect on a target and pick up on any inconsistencies that may raise red flags.
Is It Legal to Hire a Private Investigator
This is one of the most frequently asked questions we get. Many people are often unsure about who can retain the services of private investigation companies, whether they need some kind of a broker or referral to connect them to a PI, and whether they are legally allowed to do so.
To answer this question – private investigator services are open to everyone. Anyone can hire a PI to help bring the truth to light. Keep in mind, though, that a private investigator has no legal authority over any other citizen. They cannot arrest, detain, prosecute, or fine anyone. They are, however, trained and licensed to carry out private detective work.
There is an important caveat worth mentioning. You cannot hire a private investigator to look into individuals, companies, or any other entities out of simple curiosity or formulated conspiracy theories. This is especially important when retaining a PI to carry out comprehensive background checks or asset searches.
Do Private Investigators Have Limits
To reiterate, a PI has to ensure that their fact-finding activities remain confined to the legal limits of the law. They, therefore, have to ensure that they lawfully obtain information. This means that they cannot:
- Hack into emails or social media accounts to garner information on a target
- Hack into phones or computers to obtain information
- Hack into private databases to collect confidential information
- Tap phones, unless they are working alongside a law enforcement agency that has been granted the right to do so
HOWEVER, a PI can search for the information they need using a wide range of techniques, including accessing public records, copying files that are already in the public realm, and even obtaining private financial information that’s accessible to the public. It ultimately depends on the circumstances of the case or the entity under investigation.
Additionally, while a private investigator may not be able to hack into the target’s email or social media accounts, they are at liberty to initiate communication with them in the course of their investigations. The PI may then use this information to build their case.
Risks of Hiring a Private Investigator
The legal pitfalls of hiring a PI revolve around infringing certain privacy and criminal laws. As a result, the investigation may not go as planned and could potentially expose both the client and the PI to legal consequences.
There’s also the risk of not being able to use the evidence obtained. If a PI’s services are retained to obtain the evidence required for litigation, there’s always the chance that it may not be admissible in court.
Additionally, there’s always the chance that the private investigator and, by extension, the client may end up getting caught while doing surveillance on a target.
Even when making a discreet inquiry, word may get back to the individual that they are being investigated. This could land everyone involved in a sticky legal situation.
Can You Sue Someone for Hiring a Private Investigator
If someone hired a private investigator to target and carry out surveillance on you, you cannot sue them on that basis alone. Provided that they have not infringed on your privacy rights, meaning the surveillance activities conducted were limited to the public domain, you may have a hard time proving that you suffered injuries at the hands of the detective and the person who hired them to look into you.
Nonetheless, if you were harmed in the course of their investigation – negligently or otherwise – you can seek legal recourse against both the PI and the person who hired them.
Additionally, if you can prove that the information they garnered on you was obtained illegally, you can sue them and hold them criminally liable as well. Keep in mind that if the PI is working with law enforcement, pursuing legal action against them may be out of reach.
Get Legal Help
If you suspect that a private investigator broke the law while investigating you, get in touch with an experienced attorney to explore the legal options available to you. That way, they can help you determine if there’s enough evidence of wrongdoing to pursue the case in court.
Do you have any legal questions for us? Chat online with a Laws101 attorney right now.