What Can Private Investigators Legally Do?


A recent Adzuna search listed 2,426 openings for registered private investigators in Australia. Hiring an investigator is an excellent way to turn up information you might not be able to find on your own. Under the law, private agents such as personal investigators can search public records and find information through observation and interviews. The detailed written and audio-visual records they create are also admissible in a court of law.

Is private investigation legal?

Yes, private investigation is legal, and it’s legal to hire a private investigator. Individuals need evidence that will help them make the right decisions when it comes to relationships, business opportunities and other important areas of life. A private investigator can help search for a missing person, request payment of a debt, or locate a stolen item, among other jobs. 

What can private investigators legally do in Australia?

The primary job of a private investigator (PI) is to obtain information needed by you, the client. People come to private detectives for information they need in various situations, including finding:

  • Evidence that a partner or spouse is being unfaithful.
  • Facts that will help in a legal proceeding.
  • Clues that reveal a person’s character and trustworthiness.
  • Information from a background check for employment.
  • The location of a missing person.

Private investigators don’t just help individuals; they also provide valuable services for commercial and government entities. Commercial agents help root out insurance fraud, provide auxiliary evidence for law enforcement, and perform research for government agencies. 

What are the legal restrictions for private investigative work? 

A private investigator’s rights and restrictions are defined by law. 

Here are some of the things private investigators are not allowed to do in Australia:

  • Ask law enforcement or government agencies to divulge privileged information.
  • Impersonate a law enforcement officer.
  • Demand personal information about an individual from a business or employer.
  • Trespass on private property.
  • Make an arrest.
  • Hack a computer.
  • Tamper with mail.
  • Run a credit check without written permission.
  • Operate without a license.
  • Break the law.

Private Investigator Rules of Conduct

Besides the hard and fast rules above, private investigators are also expected to abide by a code of conduct and practice ethical behaviour. A professional private investigator can uncover a great deal of information without bending the rules. Private detectives are skilled at eliciting information through interviews, and they notice small details that would escape a casual observer. Also, people often broadcast information such as purchases, movements, friends, places of employment and more through easily accessed social media platforms.

Here’s a general list of important features of the private investigator code of conduct:

  • Be courteous and respectful to everyone you meet.
  • Don’t involve anyone who is not a part of the investigation.
  • Remain impartial and unbiased; stick to facts and not opinions.
  • Only collect information that’s needed for the assignment.
  • Don’t discuss cases or individuals with those outside the investigative agency, even using pseudonyms.
  • Never exhibit harassing or threatening behaviour.
  • Only charge clients for services performed.
  • Use information appropriately and legally.
  • Ensure that all records are current, factual and detailed.

Do all Private Investigators follow these rules?

Private investigation is a completely legal profession. However, it’s not okay to skirt the law by uncovering information using prohibited means. A reputable private detective can find the needed information without resorting to illegal activities.

Over time, media exaggerations and a few unscrupulous individuals have tarnished the reputation of the private investigation field. Because licensing requirements for becoming a private detective aren’t stringent, that allows an occasional PI to slip through who has a less than stellar work ethic. However, the majority of investigators are committed to finding information swiftly and professionally while staying within the boundaries of the law.

Worth the Investment

A skilled private detective will be able to uncover a wealth of useful information to serve your best interests. The hard work behind a successful investigation is worth the cost of hiring a professional. Don’t hesitate to ask questions during the initial interview. Once you’ve found the right private investigator, all you have to do is sit back and wait for answers.