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Ethics? It’s the Private Investigation Business!

Ethics? It’s the Private Investigation Business!

By Ricky B. Gurley and Laurien Rose

Anyone interested in learning about the ethics of the private investigation industry should read Hal Humphreys’ article, The Dishonest Investigator as “Rational Fool.” Humphreys analyzes the trustworthiness of modern private investigators, focusing specifically on the use of GPS mapping systems. Although I agree with much of what Humphreys has written and believe his intent in writing the article is honorable, I would like to mention a few differences of opinion.

“Business doesn’t always have to be a zero-sum game,” Humphreys states.

This is the private investigation business we are talking about — not just any old business like selling used cars or bail bonds. Humphreys is right: this is not a “zero-sum game.” It is not a game at all. In this business, the quality of people’s lives depends on our work. Their freedom, liberty or life itself could be on the line. I believe private investigation work is a “zero-sum business” because anything the investigator loses during a case could be someone else’s gain.

“Case in point: Occasionally, clients will ask me to slap a GPS tracker on a subject’s car. That surely makes surveillance easier, but I’m not willing to do it. Bottom line—it’s cheating,” Humphreys writes.

I have a few ethical questions regarding this statement:

  • If you enter into a contract with a client in this business, covering topics like acceptable performance standard, is it ethical to forego using a GPS when it is legal to use one because you are worried about “cheating?”
  • If you can legally use the GPS in a case but refuse to because your personal belief is that this would be “cheating,” are you serving your client’s interests or yours?
  • Are you offering your client the best service possible if you refuse to use certain tools that are legally at your disposal?

The legality of GPS usage depends on the state you legally work in and circumstance. A private citizen can place a tracking device on any vehicle under his or her own name. Not using a GPS because it is illegal is one thing, but avoiding GPS usage because it violates your idea of fair play is a whole different bowl of fruit when you are contractually obligated to your client.

My observations expose a dilemma in the private investigation business: ethics. This business involves a certain amount of deception, comparable to bluffing in poker or diverting an opponent’s attention in chess by moving a certain piece. But there is one major difference: the private investigation business is not a game. The stakes are high and an investigator that doesn’t use every tool at their disposal doesn’t normally face the consequences — their clients do.

When determining what is ethical, perhaps one should ask: what is the motivation behind my ethics?

Are your ethics easy to justify, but also self-serving? Or do your ethics protect people other than yourself?

If your ethics dictate you will not “cheat” by using a GPS or other legal-to-use technology during a client’s contract case, are you:

a) being ethical by refusing to “cheat?”

b) putting your personal interests above your client’s that you are contractually obligated to serve to the best of your ability?

When I take on a case, my first obligation is to my paying client with whom I signed a contract stating I will perform a service to the best of my ability.

I think the ethical goal should simply be this: an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. If you are not doing everything you legally can to bring favorable results to your client’s case, I don’t think you are giving your client an honest day’s work. Clients (and society) benefit from a private investigator that refuses to do anything illegal while working a case.

Ethics are a moral guideline. Good ethics will lead to honest business, protecting the business owner, clients and society from disreputable, dishonest and damaging acts. The way an investigator behaves in their business should be determined by their personal ethics.

I doubt many people in the private investigation business can even define the term ethics. Although they may throw the word around to get out of doing work or make competition look bad, they would be hard pressed to answer the question: why is it unethical for you to do this or for Investigator X to have done that?

Ethics don’t mean a thing without a clear definition and understanding of why they should be followed.

Written by Rick Gurley

July 7, 2014 at 12:35 PM

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