Private investigators have thriving businesses in Singapore. To fully utilize the services of a private investigator you need to know the legal work they are authorized to perform and the illegal work they cannot perform. It is important to understand the illegal work that private investigators cannot perform so that you do not incur civil or criminal liability for hiring an investigator. If you hire a private investigator to conduct an illegal activity you can be charged with the criminal offence of aiding and abetting. If an act is illegal and a personal investigator is willing to perform it, he or she is not trustworthy and it is advisable not to use his or her services.
Legal Work That Private Investigators are Authorized to Perform
The legal work that private investigators perform includes, but is not limited to:
· General investigations to obtain criminal and civil evidence
· Maid Surveillance
· Copyright or trademark infringement investigations
· Children surveillance
· Gambling surveillance
· Spousal surveillance
· Finding missing property or persons
· Employee movement surveillance
· Fraud investigations
· Background checks of prospective candidates or employees
Legal Work That Requires Special Authorization
This entails legal work that private investigators cannot perform without obtaining special consent or approval from relevant authorities. Section 11 of the Private Security Industry Act (Chapter 250 A) provides that security assignments involving the following people and places must be approved by the Singapore police:
· Investigations of foreign consuls, special representatives diplomats and their families
· Investigations of political figures and their families
· Surveillance of military places
· Surveillance of protected places
· Surveillance of specific private schools
· Surveillance of government buildings
· Surveillance of foreign consulates
· Surveillance of entry and departure checkpoints
· Surveillance of any other premises prescribed by the minister
Illegal Work That Private Investigators Cannot Perform
There are several illegal activities that private investigators cannot perform because they are expressly or impliedly prohibited by Singapore law. Even the police cannot issue special approval of such illegal activities because they are unlawful and unconstitutional. Such activities include:
· Hacking of a private digital account: Many private investigators have no qualms about hacking into a personal Facebook, Twitter, or email account. It is, however, illegal to do so under Singapore law since doing so is an offence under the Computer Misuse and Cyber Security Act.
· Surveillance involving housebreaking: Private property is protected under the law. Housebreaking is an offence under the Singapore Penal Code. It is illegal for a private investigator to commit the offence of housebreaking for spying or recording purposes. Both the private investigator and the person who has hired him or her can be charged in a criminal court.
· Surveillance involving recording and storing obscene material: Recording and storage of obscene material is a grey area as it can constitute an offence under the Penal code. For instance, recording a cheating spouse in the act of committing adultery might be categorized as recording obscene material. It is sufficient for the private investigator to record the spouse entering a hotel or record the spouse meeting with a third party in the living room
· Acquiring court evidence using illegal methods of spying or recording: The general rule in Singapore is that illegally obtained evidence is admissible in a court of law. However, courts have the discretion to include or exclude such evidence. The danger is that both the client and the Private investigator risk being countersued under the law of torts for infringing on the personal/civil rights of the other party.
· Obtaining Bank Account information or Bank Records: Financial institutions are prohibited from disclosing account information or releasing bank records about individual customers without a search warrant, a court order, a subpoena, or the customers’ consent. There are some private investigators who obtain bank records through false pretences or by conniving with bank workers. However, doing so is a violation of the law.
· Anonymous Assignments: Identification information has to be provided before any assignment is undertaken. Section 10 of the Private Security Act requires private investigation agencies to obtain client identification documents before accepting an engagement. The identification information includes the name and address of the client and a copy of the client’s identity card or passport. Failure to obtain identity information is an offence that attracts a penalty of imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or a fine not exceeding $10,000 or both.
Knowledge is power. The more informed you are the better equipped you are to pursue justice. In addition to the information above, always ensure that the private investigator has a current licence, is ethical, and does not give false representations regarding his or her qualifications. Avoid the temptation of hiring a private investigator to perform illegal work because both of you will be in trouble.