Covert Surveillance and Privacy

Sean Gladney

Despite what's portrayed in crime movies and television shows, covert observation can be challenging. Following individuals without being noticed, having the ability to keep composure if noticed and questioned by a neighbour or a member of the general public and following privacy laws requires skilled and experienced private investigators. At the Investigators Group (IGI), our investigators have over 25 years of investigative experience.Covert Surveillance and Privacy


There are a number of reasons private investigators conduct covert observation and monitoring, some of which include, obtaining evidence prior to an interview, locating persons for the purpose of catching their criminal activities, obtaining evidence relating to health insurance claims, obtaining evidence for use in court, to locate stolen/hidden property, and many more.


We are often asked to comment on whether the use of such covert activity is permitted under applicable privacy legislation and to address concerns that surveillance by a private investigator infringes on a subject’s privacy. 


The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has recognized that an organization may be justified in undertaking covert observation or monitoring on an individual under appropriate circumstances.  If there is a demonstrated and legitimate purpose and objective, then it is recognized that such activity could be an effective tool. Courts too have recognized the work of private investigators as a legitimate tool in defense of personal injury claims and have also held in other cases that an employee had no reasonable expectation of privacy, given that the observation occurred in a public place and was a public activity engaged in by the employee.


Private investigators are not required to obtain the consent of the subject to conduct observation. In fact, to do so would compromise the accuracy of the information and privacy laws recognize such limited and specific situations where consent is not required.   


Conversely, an individual has a right to privacy in their place of residence and thus an investigator cannot enter a person’s home or property to obtain evidence. However, it’s important to determine whether a less privacy-invasive alternative to such covert activity is possible to retrieve the desired information. Upon reviewing all aspects of the case, our skilled investigators will provide the client with a thorough list of options and recommendations to determine whether there’s a less privacy-invasive course of action. They also complete all required background checks to ensure due diligence. The type of information collected prior to surveillance depends on the particular case.


It is a good idea for organizations to implement a policy on any covert activity and when hiring a private investigator, document clearly the purpose of such activity. 

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