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What is 'surveillance'?


Danno Hanks (Private Investigator) gives expert video advice on: What is 'surveillance'?; What types of surveillance are used for private investigation?; What rules should I follow when conducting surveillance? and more...

What is 'surveillance'?

Surveillance is the physical observation of a person or a place to determine what activity has taken place.

What types of surveillance are used for private investigation?

Surveillance, generally, is physical observation and videotaping, and doing it without being seen. The use of wiretaps or bugs or listening devices is no longer legal in most states. It's no longer legal federally, so that does cover every state. There are certain rules that you have to follow in surveillance.

What rules should I follow when conducting surveillance?

There are certain rules to follow legally. It can be considered stalking and causing bodily harm. It is important not to let your subject see you. It can also be an invasion of privacy. It is very important to be observant. You should make sure you get all the information needed. There are many ways to invade the privacy of others. The key is to not be seen or try any of the past spy methodology and walk a very fine line.

What is 'illegal surveillance'?

Illegal surveillance is any kind of electronic device for gathering information. You can't use special microphones to listen to conversations, and you can't amplify sounds. There are people that do it, but it's not legal. There are people who are sitting in jail right now because they've done it. You also can't intercept telephone conversations. There are exceptions to those rules though. When you're investigating a case that might have criminal implications or there's threats of bodily harm, there are exceptions where you can put a tap on a phone and record a conversation. That is one of the exceptions, if there's physical harm that's been threatened.

The exceptions to the rule for eavesdropping or for putting a recording device on a phone are if the case involves threats of violence. If somebody is a stalker and you are investigating a stalking case and they are making a lot of harrassing phone calls, then the court makes exceptions and allows you to record your conversation so that you can document those threats. That's pretty much the only exception, when there is physical harm that has been threatened and you are trying to gather evidence of that. You can't tap a phone for marital infidelity. You can tap your own phone. You can record your own phone but again, you would have to let people know that it was being recorded. You're in a two-party state in California, you can't just put a recording device on your phone and say I want to catch you doing it. It doesn't mean that you can't record the conversation if they are not making a threat. It means that you can record the conversation if you believe that sometime during the conversation they are going to threaten you bodily, even if they didn't. If you believed it was going to happen and it happened in the past and you are trying to be prepared, then the recording is admissible. But nobody can go and monitor somebody's phone call, whether it is cellular or cordless phone or cutting directly into the phone line, legally. It just can't be done without a court order.

What are 'covert listening devices'?

You can put covert listening devices in buildings as long as the public is notified. And a lot of times, it happens all the time, every day, both video and audio. You'll notice that when you came into this premises here, there was a sign that said, "Warning: All activities on these premises are video and audio recorded." You know how many people read that sign? Zip. But as long as it's posted, it's legal. So, a lot of companies, what they'll do, is when you hire an employee and you give them their employee package and they go sign here, sign here, sign here. On one of those pages will be "This company monitors all telephone conversations and has employed use of listening devices and video surveillance to protect their interests and by coming to work here you have waived your right to privacy" blah blah blah. That's perfectly legal. Most people never think about it. The average person on the street is videotaped and listened to hundreds of times a day just going through his daily life. Going to the supermarket to go shopping, you're on tape the entire time you're there. You're in the parking lot, you're on tape. You go to the gas station, you're on tape. It's just the way life is today. But everyone of those require some kind of notice, and it's usually a sign people totally ignore, but it's there.

What is 'covert photography'?

Covert photography is when you are either taking the pictures from such a distance where you are using telephoto lens, or you're using special devices like bag cams or pinhole cams either hidden in a place or on your body somewhere. Again, there are certain rules and regulations that follow covert photography. You can hide your camera, but you can only videotape or covert photograph in a public place. You don't have to expose that you are videotaping somebody and you don't have to notify them that they are being videotaped but they must be in public view. An example is if they go into a restaurant and you're sitting in a booth across from them. Anybody sitting there could hear their conversation or see what they're doing, so you can videotape it. However, if they go into the bathroom stall in the restaurant you can't videotape it because they have now gone into an area where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. And that's the key phrase there: "reasonable expectation of privacy". Any time when you go into a situation where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy you cannot be videotaped or audio taped covertly.

What is 'closed circuit television'?

Closed circuit television is simply the television that's broadcast through cable or wire to a specific person, location or business. It is not broadcast off the air for everybody to listen to or to watch.

What is 'dataveillance'?

Dataveillance is basically putting surveillance devices that would detect specific key strokes, phrases or words in data to see details such as when my employees are using the Internet to download porn during the day instead of doing what they are supposed to be doing. So, they look for specific words and phrases in the searches that they do. Also, dataveillances is having firewall in your computer to detect if somebody from the outside is hacking into your particular business computer or your private computer. It's not necessarily a human being doing it, but it could be a piece of software. They have very popular things or key strokes loggers and there are private modules to put on children computers so they know which sites they have been in, That's dataveillance! Dataveillance: To monitor activities such as credit card purchases, phone calls and Internet use.

What is 'biometric surveillance'?

Biometric surveillance is done a lot by the courts. What happens is that they put a device on somebody who's been arrested, or are on probation for drunk driving. It monitors their heart rate, blood levels, and that sort of thing to see if they're out there drinking. A very new area of biometric surveillance that's being done is that small, grain-of-rice-sized chips are being injected into Alzheimer's patients, so that you can monitor the whereabouts of them 24 hours a day. This device is in case Grandpa goes wandering off, or to consequently monitor the activity of their pacemaker or whatever device they have. That's done, usually, with the person's knowledge. I doubt if anybody's got biometric surveillance on them without their knowledge, but it could happen.

What is the most common type of surveillance?

The most common type is to videotape or photograph the subject that you're observing, or the location that you're observing, to document what you are observing. The bottom line is the private investigator has to report what he's seen. All the videotape does is evidentiary support of what they report.