If you’re going to hire a private investigator for any kind of investigative work, make sure that you know exactly what they’re doing on your behalf. An unethical private investigator’s actions can result in legal liability for you, whether you knew about it or not.
Toward the end of 2022, according to an article by the Associated Press, the mayor of Reno, Nevada sued a private investigation company after she found a tracking device on her vehicle. The tracking device was found by a mechanic during routine maintenance. Upon further investigation, the tracking device was linked to an email address that happened to belong to a local private investigation company.
It is illegal to put tracking devices on vehicles. In fact, this action could result in jail time. The private investigator might personally face legal or criminal consequences for putting the device on the mayor’s vehicle. But it’s even worse than that because this private investigator was allegedly working on behalf of an unidentified third party. This third party’s identity has not been located, but it will come out in time as the investigation continues. While it’s true that there is confidentiality between a PI and their clients, when there is a violation of law, this breaches that right to privacy and confidentiality.
The Reno mayor is filing civil and criminal claims against the agency. Additionally, she’s seeking to uncover the identity of the third party. At some point, this will come out in court over depositions, testimony, or discovery. Once it does, this puts all of the communications between the investigator and the client on the surface. And when it does, it will cause major liability for the investigator, and possibly for the client that hired the investigator.
There have been cases where clients will say to an investigator, “I just want to know this information, I don’t care how you find it, I don’t want to know how you found it, just find it”, and while it sounds like they’re clearing themselves of liability, they’re actually establishing negligence and increasing their liability. Negligence is established because the client is aware of the harmful methods and turns a blind eye to their use. There are many legal ways to get access to information that might seem inaccessible. It may as simple as accessing a shared Cloud service or a shared Bluetooth infotainment system.
Even if you decide to work with an investigator that will do something illegal for you, it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. In the mid-2000s, Hewlett Packard got into hot water after it was found that their private investigator was actually using pre-texting and social engineering to access private information, all of which is illegal under the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act. In addition to the private investigator’s consequences, several executives at the company also faced charges as a result.
In summary, just because you hire a third party to do something illegal doesn’t automatically mean you’re off the hook in terms of liability. We’re not lawyers and this isn’t legal advice. We want to make sure you are aware of your liability as a client and that you won’t get into trouble for something you didn’t know anything about.
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