Private investigators must be diligent when it comes to continuing education or risk falling behind and losing business to those that do stay up to date. It is my belief – and one I hope one that is echoed by professionals in the industry – that continuing education for private investigators is absolutely critical in order to stay abreast of changes in law and techniques that allow us to better perform our jobs. Without this progressive attitude, an investigator not only becomes antiquated, he/she risks serious consequences related to ignorance of new laws and modernized ethics.
Recalling the Old Ways
Back when I had a “real job” (yes quite some time ago – even before the five pound cell-phone-in-a-bag emerged) I noticed a trend in the corporate environment where specific departments inside large corporations become islands unto themselves. The way they performed their jobs in the 1970’s was the same way they were doing their job in the 1980’s and into the 90’s. One of the notable traits in this stagnant stage of corporate life was in the management of people. While the world slowly moved away from the directive autocratic management style of the 70’s, corporate leaders were still practicing these styles in the late 80’s and into the 90’s. Was it because leaders back then were not as smart as today? The likely answer is that within the corporate walls there was no need to change. There were no new thoughts and ideas, and even continuing education came from within the same walls where old theorem was regurgitated and sent back out into the field even though the baseline rules and practices were changing.
What if we apply this thinking to the job of a professional private investigator?
What a private investigator actually did and what they could legally do has changed significantly from the 80’s through the 90’s and into the new millennium. If a private investigator in 1992 or 1995 or even 2005 decided they “knew it all,” and as a result of knowing it all because they “have always done it this way” stopped worrying about continuing education they would be in violation of a significant number of laws and likely would have been shut down long before today.
Maybe this is why the early perceptions and media outlets of the time portrayed private investigators as fringe people who skirted the law on a regular basis; primarily because there were no laws beyond common sense and decency to engage (or not) in a particular type of investigatory practice.
Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth today in the current investigative culture. The profession of private and professional investigators has come a long way as evidenced by the shift to professionalism and the increase in technology of the past few decades. Continuing education and participation in professional, industry-standard associations have become the norm. Yes there are still the exceptions out there, but like all businesses, it is up to the consumer to make sure who they hire is “the norm” rather than the exception.
Modern Legislation for Professional Private Investigators
I have identified three fundamental pieces of legislation that changed the face of what private investigators can do, and how they do it. A PI needs to have at least a cursory knowledge of these laws or consumers should be extremely wary – not because an out of date investigator is a bad person who wants to break the law, but rather because they might break the law without knowing it.
The Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act (GLB), also known as the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 speaks to the collection of and how information can be disclosed under the Act. This includes The Financial Privacy Rule which governs the collection and disclosure of customer’s personal financial information. For the private investigator it means we have no access to financial information without a permissible purpose which is clearly defined.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is federal law. The key point of this legislation is the regulation, collection, dissemination, and use of consumer information; including consumer credit information. This Act also identifies processes and what is right and wrong in hiring practices and what you must do to comply.
The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (also referred to as the “DPPA”). This statute prohibits the disclosure of personal information without the express consent of the person to whom such information applies. However, there are exceptions. These rules apply to Department of Motor Vehicle agencies as well as other “authorized recipient of personal information,” and impose record-keeping requirements on those “authorized recipients”. For the private investigator and the public it means we cannot go to the local registry and secure registration information because we want it. Defined permissible purposes determine what we have access to. This was driven by the 1989 murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer.
In fact, even telephone companies are now charged with protecting your telephone records from inadvertent or casual disclosure. This was not always the case and investigators who say or think they can legally access those records are either plain wrong or just badly misinformed – the latter of which is often directly the result of poor continuing education practices.
Ultra-modern Continuing Education for Private Investigators
Today we see topics on drones and GPS legality being discussed. In July via a list serve I am subscribed to I came across a New York Post article on investigators using drones:
This was followed by another article in August revealing legislation preventing such use:
This information was shared within the Maine Licensed Private Investigator Association (MLPIA) as well as other list serves in addition to other state and national associations by persons within their organizations.
The question becomes this; how does a professional investigator stay on top of these significant changes at national and local levels?
The answer is to continue their education. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to be part of professional organizations and associations who do the “heavy lifting” and present educational opportunities for their members. The topic of continuing education is sometimes a sore spot within the private investigator industry as some say continuing education and association participation does not make them better investigators. That may or may not be true, but there is a valid term called “intuition loading,” which is simply the information used to guide our intuition. Without the on-going updating of your education your intuition becomes loaded with incorrect, unethical and outdated information so there is a real possibility that what such an investigator is doing is not just wrong but illegal. Unknowing consumers pay the price as outdated private investigators stand there kicking and screaming that what they are doing is right.
Insurance & Technology is Part of Continuing Education
When it comes to technology, the lack of continuing education also prevents the investigator from taking advantage of improvements in technique and efficiency, raising the bottom line for the consumer. The technological and technical improvements in our industry are available to those who wish to use them and that makes us a more efficient and more professional entity.
In the past I have heard investigators argue that having liability insurance does not make them a better investigator. I agree however, I cannot see why anyone would hire an investigator who is uninsured. Would you hire a roofing contractor without insurance? What do you think happens when they fall off your roof without insurance? They go after you, so why would you hire someone in such a sensitive industry without insurance? The same is true of private investigators and the various types of insurance they may – or may not – carry to protect themselves and their clients.
Finally, there are still those that say association membership is not needed. This attitude is likely held by those same private investigators who do not understand why this law or that law as changed without their knowledge, and those who carry no insurance. The question a consumer needs to ask is;
Do I want to hire someone who is not familiar with current laws and current practices regardless of what type of investigator they are?
Name an area of an investigation that is not benefited by knowing the best current rules and techniques – the dissemination of this information is precisely what associations are for.