What Are the Legal Limits on Conduct for Private Investigators?

Private eyes aren’t impervious to the law. Contrary to popular belief, private eyes are regular citizens – just like the rest of us. The movies tend to characterize private eyes as trench coat wearing super sleuths that will do anything and everything to solve their case. They’ll rough people up for answers, break into homes and go through closets, tail people in cars, taps phones – the list is endless. However, there are a number of limits that curtail the conduct of private investigators – for their sake and ours. Here are some of the legal limits on conduct for private investigators.

Private detectives can’t arrest people. Well, technically they can’t arrest people. Any citizen has a “right” to make a citizen’s arrest, but it is very dangerous. Not only can you get hurt from arresting someone, because chances are they don’t want to be arrested. In addition, you can get in trouble for illegally detaining someone. You typically need a very strong reason why you are putting someone under arrest before you do. These are usually extreme cases and mostly have to do with someone being a threat to themselves or others. A private eye, even though they might work for a major agency, like North American Investigations (, can’t arrest a cheating spouse just to get answers out of them.

Another legal limit is that private investigators can’t access private information whenever they want it. This means that private investigators can’t access bank statements, credit card reports, or any other confidential financial documentation. This includes medical records and any other records that are proprietary and private. Not only does this go against all codes of ethics as a private investigator – you learn not to do these things when you take the test to receive your license – it is also very illegal.

Private investigators are also not legally allowed to “stalk.” It is common belief that private investigators tail the person they are hired to follow – on foot, in a car, or they might even wait outside the person’s home. However, this is stalking and it is highly illegal, especially for someone with a private investigator’s license. Not only that, but the person that a private investigator is hired to follow could get a restraining order put against them, which could botch the entire investigation. In some cases, it could get some injured or worse. This is why there are rules and laws against this sort of behavior.

Lastly, private investigators are barred from tapping phones. The truth is that even the police can’t tap phones unless it is an extreme circumstance, like a realized terror threat with evidence. Again, a cheating spouse isn’t going to cut it. There are federal laws against wiretapping. This means you can be charged with a federal crime for wiretapping someone’s phone without the person’s permission. Even if your case becomes a matter of life or death, you need to get the authorities involved if it goes that far. As a private investor your hands are tied.

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