What Can A Private Investigator Do Legally?

In movies and TV shows, private investigators are usually portrayed as detectives or spies shrouded in mystery. These people have binoculars, cameras, listening devices, and other handy tools to observe someone from a distance and gather crucial information. They follow people and take photos of what they’re doing, wiretap phones to eavesdrop on private conversations, break into buildings to get information, and perform other acts that detectives and police aren’t allowed to do.

When we base it on Hollywood’s version, it seems like private investigators can circumvent the law. But this is a common misconception surrounding PIs. So if you’re planning on hiring one, you should have a realistic idea of what they truly are. Let’s take a look at what private investigators can do legally.

What Are Private Investigators?

Private investigators are trained professionals hired by an individual or organization. In most states, these people are licensed or registered by a government licensing authority. As their name suggests, they conduct a private investigation on behalf of their clients. They help people solve problems by discreetly finding and gathering information and evidence.

To do their job properly, private investigators need an analytical mind, a keen eye, and sharp observational skills. Their goal is the pursuit of happiness, so they need to be creative, make quick decisions, and think outside the box. They must be a researcher, an excellent communicator, and a person who’s detailed and great at taking notes.

These professionals are not the same as law enforcement officers or government agents. They don’t work alongside these groups, nor do they have clearances like government agents. That is why private investigators don’t carry a badge, wear a uniform, or use the law enforcement logo.

Sure, private eyes aren’t bound by the restrictions that legislators placed on government agents and law enforcement. However, these individuals are still ordinary people. Even while they do their job, private investigators need to adhere to all laws that citizens follow.

Is It Legal to Hire Private Investigators?

It’s not every day that a person needs to investigate someone or something to get the information they need. Thus, it’s understandable that people aren’t sure whether hiring and working with a private investigator is legal.

The good news is that this is perfectly legal in the US. However, you need to ensure that you’re choosing from a professional and ethical agency that follows the law.

Additionally, there are no limitations on who can hire one. You don’t need a referral or some sort of dealer to connect you to an agency. It’s within a person’s legal right to uncover the truth and seek a professional’s help to achieve it.

What Can They Legally Investigate?

Although it’s legal to hire a private investigator, you can’t ask them to investigate just about anything. They need to work within the rules of law, which means there are only certain types of cases they can investigate legally.

Here are some of them:

  • Conducting background checks – People usually hire private investigators when they are interested or concerned about someone’s character, integrity, or financial stability.
  • Corporate investigations – Businesses have a legal right to know about the whereabouts of their assets and the actions of their employees. As such, they can hire a private eye if they suspect that an employee is showing dishonest behavior that could jeopardize the company.
  • Search for a missing person – Private investigators can legally find people who are intentionally or unintentionally missing.
  • Finding proof of an affair – Some people commission private investigators to find evidence of whether their partner is being unfaithful.
  • Child support investigation – After a marriage dissolution, some parents seek the help of private investigators to collect evidence on their ex-partner. They do this because it could highlight that they are the better choice when it comes to custody.

What Legal Methods of Investigation Can They Do?

Unlike in movies and TV shows, real private investigators aren’t allowed to wiretap phones, trespass on private properties, hack accounts, and perform other deceitful acts. They can use a multitude of means to gather information, but there are limitations to their methods of investigation.

Here are some investigation methods they can legally do:

  • Conduct surveillance
  • Searching official records
  • Searching public/online records
  • Interview family, friends, and associates
  • Use private database and resources
  • GPS tracking


Private investigators can use various types of investigation methods to gather information and evidence. However, they still need to follow local and federal laws like everyone else. This means that there are certain things they can’t investigate and do legally. So if you’re planning on hiring a private investigator, it’s essential to know what they can legally help you with.