Private Investigation Law

Private Investigator Laws pertain to the things private investigators can and cannot do. Private investigators serve many functions, but there is a great deal of misinformation about what they can legally do. Generally speaking, private investigators have no more rights or privileges than ordinary citizens. Indeed, when discussing laws pertaining to private investigators, it is often easier to speak in terms of things they cannot do than those that they can.

Impersonation of Law Enforcement.

Generally, private investigators are not affiliated law enforcement. In most jurisdictions, private investigators cannot carry a badge, wear a uniform, or represent to anyone that they are a police officer or federal official. In some cases, private investigators can wear badges and uniforms or tactical vests that indicate they are private investigators, but this must be done in accordance with local law enforcement mandates. Failing to do so could result in an investigator's arrest for impersonating a law enforcement officer.

Making Arrests.

In some circumstances, individual citizens can make what is commonly called a “citizen's arrest.” Typically, this is only possible if the citizen sees a criminal act committed by the suspect and then he or she immediately detains that person until government authorities can arrive. While private investigators can make a citizen's arrest, they cannot effect a lawful arrest like a police officer would.


Tapping a phone line or recording a conversation without the knowledge of the persons on the line constitutes illegal wiretapping and is a federal crime. Private investigators are not exempted from this law, and cannot legally tap anyone's phone line.


Private investigators cannot enter upon the property of another without their consent. Doing so will be trespassing or, if they break in, could be breaking and entering.

Tampering with mail.

Private investigators cannot intercept one's mail and open, destroy, or alter it. Doing so is a federal offense carrying very stiff penalties.

Credit Checks, Criminal Records, or Court Documents.

Private investigators cannot order a credit report for a person without that person's consent. Although they can look at any criminal records or court documents that are in the public record and open for inspection, they do not have any special right to open sealed records.

Other Unlawful or Immoral Acts.

Additionally, private investigators have no special right to violate the laws or act immorally simply because they are investigating someone. This includes harassing someone, using bribery to obtain information or other favors, hack a computer, impersonate someone whose confidential records they are trying to obtain, or take any other illegal action that any other citizen could not take.

For more information on private investigator laws, please look at the materials below. Additionally, you can contact an attorney in your area by visiting our Law Firms page.


Private Investigation Law - US

  • Concealed Weapon Carry Reciprocity

    It is important for license holders to understand that when they are traveling in or through another state they are subject to the firearm laws of that state. We have provided links to the state laws or to the licensing authorities' Web page of each of our reciprocity states so that licensees can do the necessary planning and research when preparing to travel.

  • Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act

    The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) is a United States federal law, enacted in 2004, that allows two classes of persons—the "qualified law enforcement officer" and the "qualified retired law enforcement officer" -- to carry a concealed firearm in any jurisdiction in the United States, regardless of any state or local law to the contrary, with certain exceptions.

  • Private Investigator - Definition

    A private investigator or private detective (often shortened to PI or private eye) is a person who can be hired by individuals or groups to undertake investigatory law services. Private detectives/investigators often work for attorneys in civil cases. Many work for insurance companies to investigate suspicious claims.

  • Private Investigator License Requirements by State

    Licensing is required to become a licensed private investigator in 42 states and in some states you may actually need a city license. The only states that currently do not license private investigators are: Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

  • Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act

    To amend title 18, United States Code, to strengthen protections for law enforcement officers and the public by providing criminal penalties for the fraudulent acquisition or unauthorized disclosure of phone records.

  • United States Code, Title 18, Section 2510 - Audio Surveillance

    “Oral communication means any ‘oral communication’ uttered by a person exhibiting an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception under circumstances justifying such expectation”. By definition of this code section, a person does not have an expectation of privacy, nor can he or she expect that communication will not be intercepted or recorded, if there are public signs posted which state that the communication will be intercepted or monitored.

  • United States Telephone Recording Laws

    The U.S. federal law allows recording of phone calls and other electronic communications with the consent of at least one party to the call. A majority of the states and territories have adopted wiretapping statutes based on the federal law, although most have also extended the law to cover in-person conversations. 38 states and the D.C. permit recording telephone conversations to which they are a party without informing the other parties that they are doing so.

Organizations Related to Private Investigation Law

  • Certified Investigative Professionals

    Certified Investigative Professionals Inc. ® (CIPI), is a membership organization consisting of investigative professionals and affiliates, whose mission is to promote a standard of excellence among individual investigators, enhance public confidence in the profession, and represent the industry in business, education, and political forums.

  • Criminal Defense Investigation Training Council

    The Criminal Defense Investigation Training Council was established to encourage a dialogue among professionals and scholars involved in various aspects of criminal defense investigations.

  • National Association of Legal Investigators

    NALI was formed in 1967 for legal investigators actively engaged in negligence investigations for the plaintiff and/or criminal defense. These investigators may be employed by law firms, public defenders or private investigative agencies.

  • National Council of Investigation and Security Services

    The National Council of Investigation and Security Services, Inc., is a cooperative effort of those companies and associations responsible for providing private security and investigation services to the legal profession, business community, government and the public. Each day we find an increasing number of problems confronting the orderly growth of our profession. These problems include, among others: overly restrictive legislation regarding training and standards, proliferation of legislation requiring local licensing, public misunderstanding and misinformation on the role and contribution of private investigators and security services, and an uninformed media. It is the role of NCISS to meet and solve these problems while seeking to uncover and recommend action on any hidden potential problems which may have an effect on our profession.

  • Private Investigators Association of America

    The Private Investigators Association of America is a non-profit association formed in May of 1995 by a group of Investigators. The main goal and purpose of the association is to provide an educational forum for investigators throughout the United Sates that improves the skills and the level of professionalism of those in the industry.

  • United States Associtation of Professional Investigators

    USAPI is quite different from other organizations in that it will be an inclusive rather than exclusive group. The first difference that you will see is that membership is open to all "professional investigators." Any individual who is currently employed in the capacity of a professional investigator including any current active duty law enforcement whether or not you are titled as an Investigator, Federal Agent, DA Investigator, Public Defender investigator or licensed Private Investigator. If you are a non-sworn employee for a law enforcement agency or an employee of a licensed Private Investigator you must be an employee for a period of no less than one year, and least 21 years of age.

  • World Association of Professional Investigators,

    The World Association of Professional Investigators, WAPI, is a private investigator body, formed by professionals, for professionals. It covers all areas of investigation, public sector and private sector, companies and individuals, corporate and domestic.

Publications Related to Private Investigation Law

  • DOL - Private Detectives and Investigators - Nature of Work

    Private detectives and investigators assist individuals, businesses, and attorneys by finding and analyzing information. They connect clues to uncover facts about legal, financial, or personal matters. Private detectives and investigators offer many services, including executive, corporate, and celebrity protection; preemployment verification; and individual background profiles. Some investigate computer crimes, such as identity theft, harassing e-mails, and illegal downloading of copyrighted material. They also provide assistance in criminal and civil liability cases, insurance claims and fraud cases, child custody and protection cases, missing-persons cases, and premarital screening. They are sometimes hired to investigate individuals to prove or disprove infidelity.

  • Pursuit Magazine - Legislation

    Welcome to Pursuit. We hope you enjoy the newest trade journal and online community for the private investigations, legal professions and protective services industries! Pursuit was initially an informal “e-zine” (an electronic magazine circulated via email) created a couple of years ago in our effort to offer outstanding information to our private investigator continuing education clients and staying in touch with them in between their license renewal periods.

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