About Covert Surveillance

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For countless years, criminal investigators have relied on various types of investigative techniques to solve crimes; one of the most effective investigative techniques is Covert Surveillance. The Covert surveillance is an investigative tool that allows investigators to investigate crimes by interception of data, monitoring, recording of telecommunications or computer network communications, covert monitoring of financial transactions, use of tracking devices, and deployment of under-covered agents. Information obtained through covert surveillance used to drive a criminal investigation forward and in some cases, evidence legally obtained through covert surveillance and introduced into evidence during a trial, potentially leading to a conviction. (Colette Rausch, 2011) The interception, monitoring, recording of telecommunications or computer network communications is widely used by government agencies and private investigators to obtain information about suspected individuals or groups. However, investigators must first obtain a wiretap court order before interception of the phone, computer. Call interception refers to actually intercepting (pitching into) live phone calls taking place on the target phone, in real time as they happen. This is the feature of Spy Software that automatically creates a stealth conference call, and is available on the most target phone networks. The intercept calls use a pre-defined number called the Monitor Number, which used for calling directly to the target when it's on a call. (FlexiSPY, 2013) There are several legal challenges to obtain cell phone records without a warrant. An investigator cannot access cell phone records without a warrant or the consent of the individual who holds the records. In most instances, a private investigator can get comparable evidence through other methods. (Faber, 2011)

However, monitoring of computer network communication tool regularly used particularly in the business world to gather data for the investigation, and many companies store sensitive information on computer system, database, network and utilize the data during employee surveillance to investigate employee theft or fraud. This investigative technique used during Covert surveillance to compare the latest data with existed data. The Covert monitoring of financial transactions is another great tool widely used during the Covert surveillance of criminals and fraudulent. This investigation technique utilized to monitor criminal's sources of income and investigates suspicious transactions. This Covert surveillance technique utilized to monitor suspect's bank account transactions, by regularly examination, screening transactions for red flags. The legal challenge remains the primary obstacle to obtain protected information without the consent or legal purpose. Although they can find the location of the information, which can be helpful in asking for a subpoena, private investigators cannot obtain federally or state protected information without consent of the individual or a subpoena. These restrictions apply to various documents, including: A private investigator can identify the location of bank accounts associated with a specific individual, but does not have access to specific information about these accounts. Unless they have obtained permission from the account holder, a private investigator must be granted a formal demand such as a court order to legally access the files (Faber, 2011) Account-specific information, like transaction history, can't be obtained without either a court order or permission from the card or account holder (Faber, 2011) The Cover Surveillance requires extensive coverage during the moving or tailing investigation, tracking devices utilized to collect data about suspect's locations. However, some private investigators are hesitant to use the groundbreaking technology in fear of legal consequences.

Despite the fact that many states do not have any laws on the books explicitly prohibiting the use of GPS, and federal laws are relatively unclear, private investigators are open season for being sued. The outcome, as past cases have shown, is really a crapshoot. This leaves private investigators to use the incredibly useful technology at their own risk. (Irvine, 2017) Place a GPS tracker on a vehicle without consent remains a legal challenge and GPS trackers can only be placed on vehicles with the consent of an owner. For example, if a husband wants to put a tracker on the car his wife drives, he can only do so if the car is in his name, not hers. An employer cannot place a GPS tracker on an employee's private car, but they can place a tracker on a company-owned vehicle, provided they have gone through the proper steps of consent. (Irvine, 2017) One of the most effective Covert Surveillance is the deployment of under-covered agents. This type of investigation utilized by following the suspect to collect information for the investigation. The under-covered agent will use various types of electronic devices such as cameras, cellphone, and hidden cameras with a long range to identify the suspect and record suspect's activity. The covered agent also uses various Covert Surveillance techniques like normal body language, normal dressing to prevent identified. The under-covered investigation is the final step during investigation when there is inadequate information available about the suspect. The primary setback of Covert surveillance is time, the longer the covered surveillance takes the more complications rises during the investigation that suspect might discover the surveillance and can lead to surveillance disruptions. The laws for under-covered agent vary state to state; however, in most states the under-covered agent must obtain license for that state and in most state the under-covered agent cannot carry a badge, wear a uniform or use any logo or phrasing that could imply that the investigator is a police officer or federal official. In addition, the under-covered agent must not participate in unethical practices such as using the obtained information for no investigative purposes or using dishonest investigation methods.

Additionally, the under-covered investigator cannot enter a property, house or building through illegal means including breaking and entering and trespassing laws vary from state to state, and always danger exist in personal injury of the suspect; therefore, under- covered agent must always aware of invading individual's privacy during investigation particularly crossing state & country lines. According to federal law, private under-covered agent are prohibited from wiretapping or monitor phone conversations, without consent from at least one of the individuals. North Dakota law is one party consent that means one individual must be aware the investigation. (Irvine, 2017) In light of the fact that covert surveillance involves an intrusion into an individual's right to privacy, the highest challenges investigators are facing is the law vary from state to state; investigators always review legal challenges prior initiating Covert surveillance. For instance, wiretapping a phone is prohibits private investigators from wiretapping phone calls without consent of at least one party that means one individual from that party must be aware of the wiretapping. Additionally, 38 states have state laws that say that at least one person on the call must give the consent to the recording and the other 12 states require that both parties give their consent before the call can be legally recorded. (HQ Legal Resources.org) If private investigators decided to enter onto the property of another person during Covert surveillance, the covered agent must be aware of trespassing laws of that particular state prior entering the property. However, if the covered agent consents of owner of the property, the agent can enter the property during Covert surveillance. (HQ Legal Resources.org) When private investigators access financial transactions of the suspect, they must pursue consent from account holder or by court subpoena. Otherwise, they will violate the law. Furthermore, the private investigators during the surveillance can't record private phone calls unless they receive court subpoena or one party consent. Federal and state laws protect the phone records. Since gathering evidence about the suspect there is always chances of harm to a person and the investigation can quickly get complicated and can lead to court. The complex privacy laws can put the investigators in the court battle. Navigating privacy laws critical to the investigation and always-recommended lawyer consultation prior to the initiation of the Covert surveillance. Therefore, the Covert surveillance requires extensive experience including surveillance investigation skills to put together evidence.


  1. Colette Rausch, e. (2011, 01 11). Covert Surveillance . Retrieved 08 5, 2018, from Covert Surveillance : https://www.inprol.org/rule-of-law-topics/covert-surveillance
  2. Faber, K. (2011, 08 10). What a Private Investigator Cannot Do. Retrieved 08 5, 2018, from What a Private Investigator Cannot Do: https://www.pinow.com/articles/456/what-a-private-investigator-cannot-do
  3. FlexiSPY. (2013, 12 6). Call Interception 101 What You Need To Know. Retrieved 08 05, 2018, from Call Interception 101 What You Need To Know: https://blog.flexispy.com/call-interception-101/
  4. HQ Legal Resources.org. (n.d.). Retrieved 08 05, 2018, from HQ Legal Resources.org: https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/is-using-a-private-investigator-legal-34164
  5. Irvine, S. (2017, 05 15). Using GPS Tracking Devices in Private investigations . Retrieved 08 05, 2018, from Using GPS Tracking Devices in Private investigations : https://www.pinow.com/articles/2326/using-gps-tracking-devices-in-private-investigation
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About Covert Surveillance. (2019, Dec 10). Retrieved November 28, 2023 , from

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