The Ethics of Private Investigators

We are all familiar with the dramatic stereotypical film of the portrayals of private investigators, however rarely do we consider the less dramatic and more complex reality. In actuality, Private Investigators, or PIs, painstakingly deal with the details of legally complicated and ethically ambiguous cases. A good PI must have a sound working knowledge of the law and the ability to traverse ethically grey situations, in order to provide their clients with reliable service. Before any PI should accept a case they must discuss it thoroughly with their potential client and determine whether it is legal, ethical and possible to solve their case. Only once all three questions are answered with a resounding yes, should a PI accept a case.

PIs are also responsible for the maintenance of their good legal and professional standing. Compliance with the state of operation’s licensing and registration requirements is a must. If a PI is operating within an area of expertise, they should also obtain any necessary specialized training. PIs should also continue their education on a regular basis to ensure awareness of new industry specific information and possible changes in relevant legislation.

A PI must also have a full and working knowledge of the legislation and laws related to their field of work. It is especially important that they understand and employ legal methods for collecting and disclosing information obtained during an investigation. While some types of information are available and public, other types of information are private and protected by either state or federal statutes. As civilians, PIs are also accountable to the law and knowing the difference between public and private information is crucial for them to maintain good legal and professional standing. It is necessary that they are able to make sound and legally defensible decisions (even in unexpected and legally ambiguous situations).

Additionally, it is imperative that PIs recognize and prepare for various types of ethical dilemmas likely to arise while working on a case. They need to have the appropriate education, training, management tools and strategies to deal with these situations. Examples of common ethical dilemmas for PIs include the possible violation of privacy rights (especially as new technologies emerge) or the implications of revealing confidential information to a client or others.

On a daily basis PIs are responsible for navigating the legally complex and ethically grey waters of their profession. A solid professional foundation for any good PI is their attention to detail, knowledge of relevant legislation and management of ethically complicated situations. While in reality, life as a PI may not be as dramatic as the portrayals in film, but their daily work-life is still more exhilarating than most of ours.
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