Television and film commonly and inaccurately depict the actions of a private investigator in an effort to create suspense-filled drama-driven content. In reality, a private investigator has few special privileges or legal allowances compared to the typical private citizen.
An investigator cannot trespass on private property, wiretap phones, or gain access to otherwise private information and/or records. However, an investigator is allowed on private property if a client has the authority to grant access to that location. As an example, a client may authorize us to set up video/photographic surveillance on an area of their private land regardless of the consent of his/her spouse. This access could be an important tool in cases concerning child custody or infidelity documenting what goes on in the household; particularly when the client isn’t there. Surveillance can uncover secretive substance abuse, physical abuse or cheating.
With that said, a licensed private investigator does have one distinct privilege or advantage over a common citizen and that is the ability to follow and document an individual’s activity, while on public property, without being subject to harassment or stalking laws. Using this tactic, an investigator can track an individual and record what he/she does in public. Some examples might be interacting with “shady” individuals, abusing/overusing alcohol or other substances, driving recklessly or under the influence, visiting people on the sly in motels/restaurants or engaging in other activities that can be seen in a negative light.
In essence, an investigator can serve as the eyes and ears of a client and most importantly document their findings so that they obtain irrefutable evidence that can be used in a court of law or simply as a means to provide peace of mind.