There are many myths that have become associated with the world of private investigation. These myths are full of misconceptions about what a licensed private investigator can legally obtain. In fact, contrary to popular belief, a legal professional has the identical privileges and rights provided to the average citizen.
Private investigators are held to a higher standard, because they are given authority over the citizens of the US. However, they do not have the legal right to impersonate a law enforcement officer. They cannot make an arrest legally or wiretap an individual’s phone without their consent. Like all citizens, they do not have the ability to record an electronic conversation without the knowledge of the parties involved. They cannot trespass or tamper with another person’s mail.
There are five basic things in private investigator must have authorization to obtain. These include:
- Telephony Records – The United States Congress passed a Privacy Protection Act back in 2006, which was signed into law by President Bush in 2007. The act makes fraudulently acquiring telephone records a felony at the federal level. While a private investigator has the ability to gain full access to their own phone, they have no legal rights to gain access to anyone else’s cell phone, mobile phone or landline phone records without that individual’s specific, written permission.
- Medical Records – When the HIPAA law was passed in 1996, the law placed full protection on every citizen’s medical records and medical history from public access. There are strict state and federal laws that are fully enforced that make it a crime when anyone, including a private investigator, obtains confidential medical records without the patient’s written authorization.
- Travel Records – No citizen, legal authority or private investigator can obtain travel records for another individual without a legal document, court order or notarized consent authorizing the individual to do so. Obtaining legal travel records of another without written permission is a crime.
- Birth Certificates – Every state government in the union determines its own rules on how an individual can obtain birth certificates. Typically, a birth certificate may be obtained only by the individual whose name is on the certificate. Some states allow the next of kin or immediate family members, to obtain birth certificates for their relative. For most states, birth certificate records that are more than a century old are open for access through the public domain.
- Bank Records/Credit Reports – Federal law dictates that financial institutions are prohibited from disclosing any of their customer’s account information or bank records to anyone, including government agencies and private investigators without consent of the customer or court order, a subpoena, a search warrant or some type of formal demand. However, these all have limited exceptions. There are three federal laws that protect individual credit reports from public and private access. A credit report of another individual can only be obtained by providing a signed waiver or authorization from that individual. Without it, no one, including a private investigator, can legally gain access to the individual’s credit report.
Even so, disreputable private investigators will sometimes use unlawful methods in their effort to illegally obtain confidential information. However, this goes against their license, where they are to act lawfully and morally when performing the duties of their job.
A PI does not have the legal right to harass any individual or trespass on the individual’s private property. They cannot lawfully hack an individual’s online accounts, use bribery, impersonate another individual or use any deceitful method to stealthily obtain confidential data. They are not allowed to break any of these laws for their own purpose or on behalf of a client, for their own personal gain or for the purposes of investigation.