In performing the job duties of a private investigator, knowledge is truly power. It would stand to reason, then, that the more knowledge a PI can accumulate, the more likely he or she will be able to deliver to their clients exactly what was promised – whether it be proof of their spouse’s infidelity or the location of missing valuables. One of the best ways to obtain information is to secretly eavesdrop on telephone conversations. But, can a private investigator legally wiretap someone’s phone?
Unlike many laws which are subject to the whims of state legislatures, wiretapping someone’s phone without their consent is a matter of federal oversight. As such, it is illegal to wiretap someone else’s telephone conversation if they have not given you permission, unless you are a law enforcement official and have obtained a court-issued warrant allowing the practice. This does not prevent some private investigators from wiretapping people’s phones anyways, however. Though this undoubtedly happens, it is in violation of the law and can result in the private investigator’s arrest.
In addition to wiretapping laws, most states have also made it a crime to record a telephone conversation unless at least one of the parties to the call has consented of the recording. 12 U.S. states require that everyone on the call consent to the call’s recording. These restrictions have caused private investigators to have to work with local and state police forces in order to obtain the legal cover needed to conduct their investigations.
Despite the prohibition on recording telephone conversations, in most jurisdictions, private investigators are legally able to eavesdrop on, and record, conversations which occur in public. These conversations are usually not considered by the courts to maintain the expectation of privacy, and as such are open to all to overhear and record.