Private Investigations and the Law

It is a shadowy grey area for private investigations and the law at the moment, and has been for some time.

Ex-Prime Minister Theresa May said when she was the Home Secretary ‘It is vital we have proper regulation of private investigators to ensure rigorous standards in this sector and the respect of individuals’ rights to privacy’ but not much has been done since.

Now, the public sector such as MI5 and the Police are governed by what is known as RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) which is the law that looks after surveillance and investigations and it is pretty stringent in its chapters around covert human intelligence sources.

However, RIPA 2000 does not count towards the private sector so no matter how much an investigations company say ‘we abide by RIPA’ it is pretty fruitless to be honest.

Yes, it is good to operate within the boundaries of RIPA, but it is not fit for the private sector.

Why is it not fit? Solely because the private sector is too big to police and there are so many sub-sectors to it. It isn’t just surveillance or background checks we as PI’s do, you know! We can get involved in cases in so many varying ways such as acting as an enquiry agent to locate documents or CCTV footage and even conducting physical penetration tests to check on security measures at certain locations. Staff at Delta 74 Private Investigations carried one of these out at a large university not too long ago!

Covert Filming And Photography

We take pictures and capture video footage for the majority of our clients, as we are focused towards the surveillance side of investigations and we need to be sure that the imagery we capture can hold up legally should we ever be challenged about how it was gained.

That said, the rules are pretty simple really. We can ONLY gain images of someone when we are in the public space and it is deemed the subject being pictured is not trying too hard to be private. For instance, if you are taking your bins out, we can film you doing so from the pavement on the street. But if you’re upstairs and we can see you in your window that has blinds partially closed then it is deemed by the Human Rights Act Article 8 ‘Right to Private and Family Life’ and we can’t use that imagery. A judge would quickly review this and dismiss it as evidence.

Best way to think of it – CCTV works on the same principle as we do. Public space and its fair game.

Vehicle Checks

This one is easy. All we can use are public databases to check if a vehicle is taxed and MOT’d. The DVLA will not give us anything further such as home addresses etc.

One we will often use are apps on our smartphones to get and share exact vehicle details such as make/model etc. This is well within our powers for private investigations and the law.

Vehicle Tracking

A very grey area. I’ll break this down into three parts:

Private individuals can use this service rather openly as it mainly falls to ownership of the vehicle. If you are married and suspect your partner of cheating legally you have a joint ownership to that vehicle and therefore can collect the data around it. One point to note especially is if you are a named driver on the insurance policy.

Businesses who want to deploy a vehicle tracking device onto their employee’s vehicle cannot use this service on a private vehicle at all. If the vehicle is a company car or lease vehicle then tracking it is more than legal and is now very common. The type of tracking deployed is varying but it is a huge market.

The last part of discreet vehicle tracking is when a vehicle tracker is used as an aid to a surveillance operation. If the owner/driver is placed under surveillance then a vehicle tracker can be used regardless of who owns the vehicle. The device must be turned off whilst the operation is not being conducted if there are breaks in the surveillance and no data around those movements shared or sold. We are conducting the surveillance around the vehicle and the driver anyway so it is purely an aid to the operation.

A consideration around using a vehicle tracker is the fitting. We need to be mindful of the area and if something such as trespass could be an issue. We try and be discreet with this service usually so times of fitting and location are something to bare in mind.

Private investigations and the law are often unclear to clients however we do everything legally to ensure our evidence is always admissible.

If you have any questions please contact us for a chat!


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