Are Private Investigators Legal?

Legally speaking, there are no laws prohibiting anyone from hiring private investigators. The reason why this is such a hot question is because many people have ridiculously fancy ideas about what it is private investigators can do – movies and books aren’t helping correct this stereotype. Most amateurs belong to the school of thought, that if the police can’t find anything, a private investigator can, or cannot do things “off the book”/without consequences. To correct this impression, we need to see who private detectives are, what they can’t do, and why it’s totally legal to hire them.

Who are Private Investigators?

They’re not law enforcement agents. They may have been police officers at one point in their life, but private investigators are considered ordinary citizens, who offer investigative services. Law enforcement agents can consult private investigators, just as ordinary citizens can. Some important differences between the two though are; while offering money to private investigators in exchange for information is considered a business, doing the same to any law agent is considered bribery. Also, law enforcement agents can bypass privacy law protection if they have a court order, warrant or some other similar legal document, only in very rare cases can PIs obtain court orders to bypass another person’s privacy – they work mostly with consent.

Some parts of the world issue different grades of private detective licenses – like the ordinary and the masters license, but none of them confer the rights of a law enforcement agent.

What Private Detectives Can’t Do

Whether or not it’s legal to hire private investigators depends on what you expect them to do for you. Side note, if you ask for something illegal, reputable, licensed PI’s will flat out reject or offer legal alternatives. Here’s the lowdown on what they can’t do.

– Arrest other citizens. Because PI’s are technically ordinary citizens so it’ll be illegal if they arrest another ordinary citizen. PI’s aren’t given a free pass on the law, because they’re not above it.

– Trespass on private property. You can have them follow someone, as long as it’s on public property. Once they’re on their private property, targets become off limits and evidence gathered through such means become inadmissible in court. One loophole to this – especially in cases of married couples – is for the spouse, who’s co-owner of the private property to give their consent to the private investigator. The private investigator can testify in court about anything he or she witnessed while visiting.

– Access private data. Public information is fair game, but private data, like emails, texts, bank statements, credit card details, phone calls and sealed public records, are all considered private data and it’s illegal for any PI to obtain them. Don’t underestimate the amount of data that’s public though. PI’s have been uncovering hidden assets, even without looking at bank records, thanks to cues they get from public records like tax and property filings.

So, are private investigators legal? Yes. Just make sure you’re hiring them for lawful reasons. Check out to see the sorts of services a licensed investigator can provide.