What a private investigator can – and cannot – do
Private investigators are, to most people, sleuths that exist in the worlds of cinema and literature. They are often hired to go to the places the police avoid, to venture into the criminal underworld, or to think ‘outside of the box’ when it comes to solving crimes.
However, because of these interpretations of the role of the private detective, it can be difficult to get to grips with the powers and responsibilities they have in the real world.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at what private detectives in the UK actually can do, and what they can’t.
What they cannot do
If you’ve ever read a thriller with a private detective in the lead role then you’re probably used to them being a bit of maverick. They will, if the situation requires it, refrain from playing by the rules. However, in reality, this is very much not what investigators do.
They cannot, for example, hack into someone’s computer or mobile phone. They can access these devices, sure, but only with the express permission of the owner. Similarly, they are not allowed to obtain bank records in any illicit way, though they will often be able to view them if they are working directly with a lawyer who has obtained the adequate permissions.
Also, although the films may lead you to believe otherwise, private detectives are absolutely not allowed to arrest people – that power remains firmly in the hands of the police.
What they can do
Most fictional detectives are incredibly adept when it comes to tailing someone, and this is absolutely something that their real-life counterparts are also allowed to do. They are, on a similar note, also allowed to partake in surveillance operations, though they are only able to do this from public property. They cannot, for example, break in to someone’s home and glance through their private documents.
They are allowed to use whatever public records are available to garner information. They can perform background checks on individuals, which usually involves scouring records from an array of sources and databases – from various locations – to get to the bottom of the issue at hand.
Quite simply, they must stay within the law.
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