Your Right to Privacy: A Basic Guide to Legal Rights in An Information Society

By Evan Hendricks; Trudy Hayden et al. | Go to book overview

XIV
The Wild Card: Private Detectives

What is a private detective?

A private detective is someone who, for a fee, investigates people, businesses, or cases for private clients. They are also known as private investigators. In most cases they are former police or intelligence officers.

How many private investigators are there?

One estimate puts the number at 65,000.1 The price for a private investigator's services can range from $45 a day to $1,000 a day, depending, of course, on the experience and reputation of the investigator, the job at hand, and the client. Private investigating is a multimillion dollar business in the United States. Increasingly, law firms are turning to private investigators to cut prelitigation costs. In 1988, many investigators reported 25 percent annual growth in their law firm business.

Is the old image of private detectives still valid -- Sam Spade-type men in dirty overcoats watching a front door all night from a parked car?

Generally not. In recent years there has been a fundamental shift in which private detectives less and less have to "tail" people and instead find out what they need by searching through databases. In other words, they are benefiting from the advent of a computerized "information society" that allows those who are "plugged into" key computers to engage in data surveillance.

What kind of data can private investigators gain access to?

All kinds, and that's the point. An informal survey of a representative sample of private investigators confirmed what most people already believe to be the case: private investigators can find almost any information they want, regardless of privacy laws or any other security measures. One private investigator, who asks that his name be withheld,

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