So, you’re wondering whether private investigators can ‘track’ your phone and other mobile devices. Often, we get enquiries about tracking numbers or installing some form of GPS tracking on mobile devices. In this post, we’ll take you through the different queries we get about communications surveillance and give you the answers you need.
Can a Private Investigator Track a Phone Number?
We’ll address this one first, as we find that some clients get confused about the difference between tracking and tracing. PIs can trace a mobile number, as in we can find out who owns a number or where the owner of a number lives. Tracking a number refers to monitoring the telecoms activity that someone engages in using a specific SIM card. In general, we can’t do this.
Phone records and mast information are protected data. Nobody can access this information except your service provider and law enforcement. Even the police must have sufficient reason for looking at this data. They must also have relevant warrants for the service provider to turn this information over to them
Can a Private Investigator Track the Location of a Phone?
Yes, a private investigator can track a phone location, provided you are the owner of the phone. Mobile phone tracking uses GPS software to monitor where someone goes. An example of this kind of software is probably familiar: Apple’s Find My iPhone. These apps receive real-time satellite data about the phone’s location in the world.
A private investigator shouldn’t track someone else’s’ phone location, as installing the software without their consent would be illegal. Without the software, it is impossible for people (except emergency services and service providers) to monitor the location of a phone.
Can a Private Investigator Track the Owner of a Phone?
In a way, yes, private investigators can track the owner of a phone. By conducting a number trace, establishing whomever the owner of a phone is, and conducting surveillance, we can monitor the movements of (‘track’) a mobile number owner.
As we’ve mentioned, we can’t directly monitor someone through their phone number alone. Because we’re licensed private investigators, we must only access publicly available, consensual data. As long as we do this, we can track the owner of a phone
Can a Private Investigator View Message Contents?
No, absolutely not. Unless the messages are yours and you give us your consent to view them, we cannot look at the contents of messages. This includes voicemail, call logs, the contents of messages, and recorded conversations. In addition to this, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Telegram, and dozens of other messaging services use end-to-end encryption. This means that nobody, not even the messaging services themselves, could see the contents of your messages without physical access to your phone.
In the early 2010s, it emerged that several private investigators working for The News of the World had engaged in voicemail hacking of people of interest and their family members. These rogue operators are still facing the legal consequences for their actions.
Investigation services advertising that they will do this are admitting that they’re prepared to break the law. We’d advise everyone to stay away from investigators like this, as it demonstrates a poor and reckless attitude to investigative ethics.
Can a Private Investigator Listen to Phone Calls?
Yes, if the phone call is between you and someone else, then you are within your rights to allow us to listen in. A PI can also record phone calls as long as they aren’t intercepting comms between unconsenting parties. What they do with these recordings depends on local laws, but the recordings themselves are not inherently illegal.