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Privacy Acts and Private Investigators – What You Need to Know

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The Smith Investigation Agency gets a lot of requests from potential clients. While we’ve handled many different types of requests over the years, there is one thing that our private investigators will never do: break the law. It’s incredible how many potential clients ask us to tap into their spouse’s cell phone messages or even social media accounts. What makes things even trickier is that these individuals don’t know that there are many things a private investigator can’t do during an investigation because it breaks privacy act laws.

While movies and television show private eye’s doing whatever it takes to crack the case, real-life private investigators must use a completely different set of skills to get the job done. The most important skill a private investigator can develop is to operate ethically. This means that they must know all details of the privacy acts that pertain to the city, state, province or country that he or she investigates within.

What is a Privacy Act?

A privacy act is a legislation, or a law, that helps to protect an individual’s personal information. Without these types of laws, anyone could approach a bank, for example, and pretend to be anyone to gain access to financial statements, credit card or even withdrawal information. As you can imagine, keeping valuable records and other information private is extremely important.

In Ontario, Canada, individuals must abide by the Freedom of Information and Protecting of Privacy Act (FIPPA).  This Act came into effect in 1988. FIPPA’s primary purpose is to regulate how public bodies manage an individual’s personal information. It also regulates the rights of an individual’s access to those records.

Public VS Private

Overall, what this really means for a private investigator or private investigation agency is that they really need to know what information is private. A private investigator cannot legally touch private information. What a private investigator can use is public information. While most individuals are much more cautious when it comes to public activities, a savvy private investigator can use this information to their advantage.

What is Illegal?

A licensed private investigator will know and understand what is legal or illegal. In fact, if you ask a private investigator to tap into your spouse’s phone, he or she will tell you that it is not possible. At the same time, a licensed private investigator might not always act ethically, or according to the law—at least until they get caught. However, a good private investigator will never do anything that could jeopardize the case, their client, or their business.

To give you a better idea as to the different activities that a private investigator cannot do to gather information for a case, check out the following:

Social Media Accounts

It seems like most people these days have at least one social media account. When working on a case, a private investigator cannot hack into an individual’s account. Hacking basically means trying different passwords or even logging in with a password provided by someone other than the individual that owns the account.

The information a private investigator can use however, is whatever the individual posts on their social media feeds. That information is available to the public, and it’s incredibly surprising how many people will post the exact information a private investigator needs for their case.

For example, if a private investigator is looking into insurance fraud, they might check the individual’s Facebook account. Let’s say that they find a recent photo album of that individual at the cottage going jet skiing. This could raise a red flag, especially if that individual has claimed they can’t work due to an injured back.

Cellphone Messages

Many individuals want a private investigator to hack into their spouse’s cellphone to gain access to voice or text messages. This is illegal and goes against the privacy act in Canada. The good news is a good private investigator will have many resources up their sleeve to help catch a cheater.

In general, a private investigator will turn to surveillance to catch a cheater. Most cheating situations reveal themselves with a little planning and a lot of patience.


It is illegal for most people to impersonate an individual to gain access to private information like, banking or health records. Therefore, even with a license, it is also illegal for a private investigator to impersonate an individual. Again, a good private investigator will obtain the information that they can use legally.


A private investigator cannot trespass on private property. This includes homes and businesses. In situations where the private investigator is working for the company in question however, a private investigator would have access to the building. For example, to catch an inside job where an employee is stealing product from the company.

A private investigator must get permission from the individual to enter any residence or place of business. Therefore, it is illegal for a private investigator to try and enter using force or by picking a lock. These actions break privacy act laws.

Record a Conversation

It is illegal for a private investigator to record a conversation without permission from the individual. It is also illegal for a private investigator to wiretap or bug a phone without the individual’s consent. In both situations, both parties involved in the phone call must know about the recording before the conversation begins.

Filming through a Private Window

A private investigator cannot walk up to a private residence and take pictures of whatever is happening inside. This is considered private information and is illegal. What a private investigator can film is anything that happens in a public space. So, if the individual leaves their property, a private investigator can capture that information. They can even follow the individual to their next location.

A few more . . .

A few other things a private investigator cannot do because they will break privacy act laws include,

  • Tampering with an individual’s mail
  • Run a credit check without written consent
  • Must have a reason to run a license plate
  • Hack into an individual’s email account
  • Put a GPS tracker on a vehicle without the individual’s knowledge

Privacy Acts: Leave the Investigation to the Professionals

As you can see, many of the general privacy acts that pertain to a private investigator also apply to the general public. It is why you should really turn to a licensed private investigator for help when it comes to your case. These specialized individuals know and understand what they can and cannot do to help.

For example, if you try to catch your spouse cheating by putting a secret GPS on his or her car, and hack into their phone and social media accounts, you only put yourself at risk. If the individual in question finds out about your activities they have the right to bring you to court. Instead of solving the problem, you’ve only created and even bigger one—for yourself.

So, what are you waiting for? Call us today for more information on our private investigation services.

Info@SmithInvestigationAgency or 647-479-8474

About the Author

Whitney Joy Smith

Whitney Joy Smith is a prominent figure in the field of private investigation and security, serving as the founder and CEO of The Smith Investigation Agency Inc., Smith Security Inc., and Training Centre Canada, as well as a sitting politician.

With a remarkable journey that began in the early 2000s, Whitney's professional background as a private investigator is underscored by her unwavering dedication to the role. Born in Canada and having spent her early years between Canada and the United States, Whitney possesses a unique perspective shaped by her experiences in both countries. This background equips her with an in-depth understanding of the intricacies of private investigative laws, regulations, and operational standards in North America.

Throughout her career, Whitney has garnered numerous industry awards and accolades. She takes great pride in working closely with her continually expanding agency, striving to elevate industry standards, maintain compliance, and effectively meet the diverse investigative needs of clients.

Whitney actively engages in various membership, committee, board and support roles, demonstrating her commitment to the industry and professional community. She is affiliated with all local chambers, associations and more.

Whitney's wealth of experience is not limited to her professional achievements; her thought-provoking articles have been featured in publications ranging from Readers Digest, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, and Mens Health to Business News Daily. She constantly seeks to redefine standards and push the boundaries of excellence within the private investigative and security fields.

To discover more about Whitney Joy Smith and the dedicated team at The Smith Investigation Agency Inc., visit our website to learn more.

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