Introduction to Surveillance
In the news lately, the word surveillance has a negative connotation due to accusations of its misuse by government and big business. But, for a private investigator, when surveillance is performed legally, it's a necessary and important skill set. A majority of private investigators perform surveillance on a regular basis and are called surveillance investigators or surveillance specialists.
Surveillance involves gathering evidence on a subject in a covert manner so that the surveillance investigator is not discovered, potentially damaging the chances of solving the case. While on surveillance, private investigators use different techniques to remain unnoticed, not only by the subject, but the general public, who may call law enforcement when they see an individual acting in a suspicious manner. Trained investigators or surveillance specialists, use this skill to collect information and provide the court evidence of wrong doing, the kind of evidence that will stand up in court.
Additionally, the definition of surveillance is the monitoring or observation of behavior, activities and people for the purpose of influencing, managing, directing, or protecting them.
Types of Surveillance
Surveillance on Foot
Ideally, a surveillance investigator wants to follow their subjects at a discreet distance. In quiet areas, back roads, late at night, small towns, cul-de-sacs, parks and other low traffic areas, surveillance is maintained at a greater distance. In busy areas, downtown metropolitan cities, shopping malls, restaurants, commercial buildings, and public events, surveillance is maintained at a shorter distance keeping the subject insight at all times. If the subject turns around, walked past them, look in a shop window or pretend to make a phone call. Avoid any sudden actions and do not stare at the subject as this may arouse suspicion.
Investigators should follow the subject’s vehicle approximately 2 to 3 car lengths behind and change lanes regularly. The subject or passenger may frequently look behind them, so use a buffer, a vehicle between you and the subject. If the investigator notices the subject vehicle making several turns or appears to be driving around the block, the investigator needs to end surveillance immediately to avoid blowing their cover.
Investigators on surveillance need to change their appearance to fit their surroundings. Wearing a nice suit while following your subject into a top restaurant may be appropriate, but you may stand out when working in a local tavern. It is a good idea to bring a change of clothes with you in your car and where a jacket that can is reversible. Remember, mingle in with the crowd rather than standing alone. It is common for investigators to where dark-colored or design free clothes to avoid being noticed. Think back to the last time you were in public and try to remember any faces that stood out.
It requires special skills for investigators to take photographs or video during surveillance. Private investigators need to get a clear view the subject’s face, who may be with the subject, vehicle, their license plate or activity. Surveillance equipment must have date stamps on video footage and photographs to prove when they were shot. While it’s important to get good close up photographs or video, an investigator needs to show a panoramic view of the area to indicate the subject’s exact location.
Washington State Investigators conducts surveillance on a majority of their cases. We are skilled at all aspects of surveillance and have the proper equipment to support our client’s needs. A majority of services we provide use surveillance to document evidence for a case.
- Adultery and Infidelity
- Child Custody
- Employee Theft
- Civil and Criminal Investigations
- Personal Security
- Workers Compensation Injury Fraud
Surveillance and Privacy
Many of us worry that surveillance affects our privacy and why balancing the act of security and privacy should only be attempted by a trained and licensed investigator. It’s important to stay on the right side of the law.
Speaking about privacy and the law, in the past, several media news agencies reported about leaked documents stating a government program called “PRISM”, and how the NSA is violating US citizen’s privacy by collecting data from electronic communications, i.e. email correspondence, texting, IM, social media sites, search engines, encryption security companies and more.
Additionally, not only are government and local law enforcement entities monitoring and tracking our activities, but newer technology using automatic license plate recognition/reader (APLR) systems are becoming more common. Automatic number-plate recognition can be used to store the images captured by the cameras as well as the text from the license plate, with some configurable to store a photograph of the driver. Systems commonly use infrared lighting to allow the camera to take the picture at any time of day or night.
Facial Recognition is a technology capable of identifying or verifying a person from a digital image or a video frame from a video source. Facial recognition works by comparing selected facial features from given image with faces within a database that can uniquely identify a person by analyzing patterns based on the person's facial textures and shape.
Many people are concerned about the privacy issues that come with facial recognition. The technology can track you, which makes people uneasy. In addition, large data breaches are all too common these days and the personal information that facial recognition software collects is not immune.
A recent breach revealed that 100,000 photos and license plates were compromised from the Border Agency database. This data related to those entering and exiting the U.S. Another breach was discovered in a UK biometric system used by banks, in which over a million people’s fingerprints and facial recognition information was discovered on a publicly accessible database. These breaches highlight the flaws in the security of facial recognition databases.
A recent study found that 56% of Americans trust law enforcement to use facial recognition responsibly, but others aren’t as confident that the data will be used ethically.
The same study also found that while a majority thought it was acceptable for law enforcement to use facial recognition technology to assess security threats in public spaces, i.e. airports, they did not think other uses such as monitoring apartment buildings, companies tracking attendance of employees or advertisers seeing how people respond to ad displays were acceptable. This distrust comes from the fear that these private companies will misuse the data.
Not only do private companies have access to the data, but many facial recognition databases are public. This means that any person, even those with malicious intent, can find you on the database and track you down.
Washington State Investigators are trained surveillance specialists who stay current with laws regarding surveillance and privacy in Washington State.
Collateral Intrusion: The unintended consequences of covert surveillance
Washington State Investigators provides covert surveillance and understands the legalities involved. To better understand this, we have provided this article to give you insight what a Private Investigator must be aware of when using this method to collect evidence.
Collateral Intrusion, according to oxfordreference.com
‘The unintentional gathering of intelligence material with intended material e.g. background conversation recorded with intended speech.’
What, you might ask, has this got to do with private investigations?
The plain fact is that every time you start an investigation into any individual you can guarantee that at one point or another you will commit some kind of collateral intrusion on someone other than your subject.
Usually, it’s limited to close family and friends but it may also be work colleagues or just simply the people sat around the subject in the local pub.
Photograph, record or witness any other person’s private information while looking at your subject and it’s technically ‘collateral intrusion’. It’s not just physical surveillance either; any details you may obtain during the course of you inquiries that are about another person, for example joint ownership of property or car is also, to some degree, collateral intrusion.
The next question will be, so what? Isn't this just a consequence and unavoidable result of any investigation?
Well yes, you’re right, but its how you deal with the information and what plans you put in place to reduce it that’s important.
The first step is to acknowledge that it will happen and that you are aware that it will happen. Secondly, build in a plan to reduce it. This will involve making sure that you and any other operatives on the operation understand what collateral intrusion is and that steps are taken to reduce it by tightly focusing you observations and inquiries on the subject. This could be as simple as not taking photographs of any members of the family unless you have a good operational reason to do so. Finally, if you do inadvertently obtain some information not relating to the subject or the investigation ensure that it is disposed of immediately and no further action taken toward that person. (It is good practice to have a policy that lays out the exact procedure for disposal and the recording of it).
Now, if that all sounds a little bit OTT then think again, it’s exactly how Public Authorities deal with issues of collateral intrusion and it is insisted on before an authority to carry out surveillance under RIPA is issued.
As we move to increase professionalism in the Private Investigation industry, it’s the type of standard that you should be striving for and I’m pretty certain, an ever more informed client base will start to insist on.
At the end of the day, licensing for the Private Investigation industry is about protection of individual’s privacy. The competency training and qualification for the license is more about knowing what you shouldn't do rather than what you can do.
Surveillance Investigator Summary
The best option is to hire a qualified private investigator who is a surveillance specialist. Washington State Investigators is licensed and fully insured to provide surveillance to gather evidence. A private surveillance investigator is the most effective way to observe someone or something. Private investigators, who are skilled surveillance specialists are well-versed in current laws and often work on civil and criminal investigations, so you don’t have to worry about legal impediments when you entrust your surveillance needs to trained investigators.
If you suspect a spouse is cheating, an employee is dishonest, or need proof of harassment, it can be difficult to concentrate on everyday tasks at home or at work. Our surveillance investigators are here to help. If you would like to have a confidential conversation regarding surveillance and how it may benefit you case, please call us at your convenience.
To read more about surveillance, please visit our PI News article surveillance-past, present and future.