Private InvestigatorYou’d be forgiven for thinking that Private Investigators are the Indiana Jones’ of information gathering, except instead of tracking down and retrieving ancient artifacts, we locate and obtain any information that you want/need. In reality, the majority of PI’s are more like librarians than intrepid action heroes. Yes, we can locate and retrieve information that you, as an ordinary citizen, wouldn’t know how to find and, quite a bit of it but, unlike the Hollywood character made famous by Harrison Ford, we cannot get you the Holy Grail.

Sadly for me, but a relief to many who’s information I seek, Australia has some of the toughest privacy laws in the world. Thanks civil libertarians! This means that, unlike our lucky contemporaries abroad, we cannot legally do the following:

  • Access phone records
  • Access bank statements
  • Access criminal records
  • Tap phones
  • Hack into computers
  • Bug houses
  • Peer over your back fence
  • Slip a listening device into your handbag
  • Stick a GPS tracker to your vehicle
  • Access your emails
  • Film you and record your voice at the same time (in some states)
  • Install key loggers onto your cheating spouse’s laptop

So what are we good for then? Fair question and one that I ask myself regularly because we have no greater powers, when it comes to information gathering, than the average citizen. Lobbying is taking place in Australia for PIs to be allowed to access certain information about individuals that isn’t publicly available, such as information about current or past domestic violence protection orders, but I don’t see the status quo changing any time soon.

The thing about PIs that sets us apart from Joe Public is this;

  1. We are licensed to sit outside your house and watch you indefinitely – unless you call the police and tell them we’re making you uncomfortable in which case the police can direct us to move on. This is a fairly unlikely scenario however, because a PI, who’s any good, wouldn’t be noticed in the first place. The point is, we can legally watch someone – you cannot. If you try it, you will be caught and charged with stalking.
  2. We know how to find information. You’d be surprised to know that, for a subscription fee and, sometimes for free, there is a wealth of juicy information out there about you that we can lay our hands on quite legally such as; how much you paid for your house, whether you’ve been a bankrupt, what your address is if you rent, what your previous addresses have been, what chat sites you’ve been on, where you went on holiday last year, what phone company you’re with, if the vehicle you’re driving is registered in your name, whether that’s your real profile picture, what your hobbies and interests are, who you associate with and lots more.
  3. We know what to do with information once we get it. PIs are trained to operate in accordance with ‘the Rules of Evidence’, which means we know how to collect, handle, store and present evidence so that it can be used in court. We are also considered ‘specialist’ witnesses – which essentially means our evidence is treated more seriously in court than the evidence of an ordinary eye witness.

In summary, we may not have the same powers as police, or Indiana Jones, but we’re still pretty useful. You may be disappointed to learn that we can’t access your girlfriend’s text messages, but it may be worth calling us anyway because we can usually find a legal way to get the information you’re after.

Subscribe to our Podcast channel for an upcoming fascinating interview with a hacking expert about what is possible and what isn’t, when it comes to hacking phones and computers.