Ethics and Privacy
Technology is a double-edged sword. Its growth has benefited society in multiple ways, but it has also opened new avenues for bad ethical behavior, especially the misuse of information. Because personal and business information can be attained, stored, and reproduced so quickly and easily, the danger that it may fall into the wrong hands is greater than ever. Many safeguards have been put in place to protect the public, but those implementing these safeguards are invariably behind the curve due to the proliferation of new technology. Therefore, an individual is on her own and must protect her information. As an investigator, she must safeguard the information of her clients.
Ethics and Technology
Cell phones are convenient and provide a feeling of safety. Users typically feel strange without one. Yet these conveniences have become one of the greatest risks to identity and information theft in recent years. One reason is that people using cell phones are everywhere — so much so that they've become almost invisible. No one pays attention to anyone taking out a phone (kind of like that car alarm that's barely noticed as it blares away down the street). However, a person with a cell phone could snap pictures of your credit card, driver's license, or personal checks. Even clerks have been known to do this. Because you wouldn't do this, don't be naïve about the number of people who will.
Additionally, you must make sure you safeguard your clients' information just as carefully as you do your own. The following recommended actions from the Federal Trade Commission will help you accomplish this:
Inventory personal and sensitive client/employee information and its location.
Determine how this information puts you or your clients at risk — for example, who has access to information and what checks and balances are in place. If the safeguards are insufficient, strengthen them.
Lock personal and business data away from other files.
Limit keys to this locked room or cabinet and keep track of who has them.
Train employees to never let sensitive info out of their sight — not even for short breaks. It only takes a moment to steal information.
Never leave mail in the box, locked or unlocked, overnight.
Shred credit card offers and anything that may contain personal information.
Keep sensitive client information only so long as you have a legitimate business reason for using it.
If you must use this information, develop a written record retention policy that justifies keeping sensitive client and employee information. Record why you keep it, how long you'll keep it, and when and how you'll dispose of it.
Receipts must include only the last five numbers of a credit card, not the entire number.
One strategy is to invest in a hidden camera system to help with employee and customer/client accountability. Employees should be trained to handle client/customer information as if it were their own. Many times data goes missing due to carelessness; employee education can reduce these errors.
Hidden cameras may disclose employee ineptitude, noncompliance with training, or even duplicitous or illegal acts. If you're squeamish about watching employees who don't know they're being watched, have them sign an agreement upon being hired which informs them that they may be subject to periodic surveillance of their duties. Be sure to include that this is for the purpose of quality control and any needed retraining. Then follow through and either record them periodically (cameras can be rented for this purpose) or have a covert system installed.
Once you've given fair warning, if his performance is still under par or if he steals from you, you have a serious problem in this employee. Yet you'll be surprised at how often this proves to be the case. Over time, people tend to forget they're being recorded, even when they are under visible surveillance, and will revert to their normal behavior. See Chapter 17 to find out why visible cameras aren't recommended for this purpose.
Federal laws such as the Federal Trade Commission, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act require businesses to keep sensitive client information in a safe manner. Check into your state and local laws concerning the security of client information. In many cases, there are slight, but important, differences. See
The FTC protects public privacy using the authority of two very important acts: The Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Children's Online Protection Act. See Chapter 12 for more information about privacy issues and laws and Chapter 17 for audio/video laws.
Ethics and Obtaining Evidence
Illegally obtained information is of no more use to the PI than it is to the law enforcement investigator. However, a fine line exists between legal and illegal and between good and bad ethics. In those rare moments when nothing but conscience is available to guide her, the investigator should always lean toward the legal and choose the good. By doing so, she not only protects the evidence and the client, she protects herself as well.
You'll need to cultivate contacts with all types of people. People possess information you need, and getting it can be dicey. You must make choices as to how close to the line you can walk without crossing it. Some investigators have cultivated relationships with people who have access to prohibited information. For instance, they have bribed phone company employees to get unlisted phone numbers and protected addresses; in some cases, unethical investigators have persuaded phone company employees to let them listen in on private conversations. Dispatchers and even police officers have been bribed to run NCIC reports that can only legally be run by law enforcement officers — and then only for official purposes or open cases. Gangs and organized criminal groups have put their own people inside phone companies, courthouses, and police departments to obtain information. Information is big business.
This is a lazy and dangerous method of investigation. The information you gain is not worth throwing away your career. If you are caught, you may lose not only your reputation and your business, but your freedom as well. Legal means are available for discovering information. Don't try to circumvent the law. When you are found out, don't expect your contacts — or accomplices — not to roll over on you to save themselves.
Ethical guidelines provide a framework for making choices. Make these choices according to established laws, but also according to community mores and concern for respect, fairness, and the safety of others. Never behave toward others in a demeaning manner. Never use techniques that result in the violation of your own idea of right and wrong, and never allow the fervor to “get your man” drive you to compromise your integrity.
If you're caught breaking and entering with your new lock-pick set, or pretending to be a police officer or utilities worker in order to gain access somewhere — or any of the many ploys used by television and film investigators — it won't matter that you're a PI. You'll go to jail. It may sound simplistic, but you can never go wrong if you just do the right thing.