Employee Surveillance

Probably to best tool in the Skill Set of a Professional Investigator is the ability to Plan and Carry out a Surveillance Operation.

Surveillance is defined a “close observations of a subject”.

People often have the misconception that Surveillance can only carried out by Law Enforcement Agencies or other Government Agencies. This is wrong!

Surveillance which is carried out by Law Enforcement Agencies and other Government Agencies is regulated by The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). This is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, regulating the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation, and covering the interception of communications. It was introduced to take account of technological change such as the growth of the Internet and the intrusion into people’s privacy.

When we think of Surveillance we think of Police, Law Enforcement, Military or Security Services. When we think about what they do we think it is some kind of “dark art” and only achievable by the agencies listed above. But when you think most Professional Surveillance Operatives are Ex-Police or Ex- Military then you can soon understand that techniques used by the above agencies are now readily available in the private sector. However, some of the resources and techniques used are not available in the Private Sector.

In effect Surveillance which is carried out by Private Investigators is not covered by RIPA unless they are carrying out the Surveillance for a Government Agency.

Most Professional Investigators will approach accepting instructions to carry out Surveillance on a subject using the Principles set out in a RIPA Authority. This is done so the Investigator is able to justify that the Surveillance is Lawful and Proportionate. In effect taking this approach is a safe guard for the Client and the Professional Investigator Company.

So in the Commercial World who would instruct a Professional Investigator to Carry out Surveillance, and why would they do it?

I suppose the obvious one would be; Insurance Companies, to establish if a Claimant in a Personal Injury Claim is Fraudulently Claiming or are exaggerating the Claim. In this Claim Culture that we live in, people have been encouraged to Claim and Greed often encourages false or exaggerated claims. Therefore it is not surprising to learn that there is large market for Professional Surveillance Operatives in the Insurance Claims Market.

If a Claimant is claiming they cannot carry out certain physical activities, but other evidence suggest this may be false or exaggerated then the Insurance Company may wish to instruct surveillance to be carried out to reduce or negate the claim.

Other examples of where surveillance may be necessary is in the Commercial Sector. Businesses can be vulnerable to unscrupulous acts by competitors, customers or employees. One of the most common reasons a business would instruct a Professional Investigator to carry out Surveillance in prolonged or habitual absenteeism.

Quite often employers will have generous sick pay schemes and some employees see this as a way to be absent from work, claim the sick pay and sometimes top up this with “working on the side” thereby enjoying two incomes at the cost of their employer. In some businesses this will have an adverse effect on productivity, morale and profitability. An employer may seek to investigate this if they are suspicious and then take the necessary calculated action to remedy the situation.

Technology has seen a boom in “home workers” which if not monitored properly can often encourage abuse. If an employer becomes suspicious that an employee who is home based is not carrying out the job and responsibilities properly, they may instruct a Private Investigator to carry out Surveillance. This type of investigation may involve time fraud, expenses / mileage fraud and falsifying customer records.

Industrial Espionage may be a phrase more associated with Hollywood than a Northern Mill Town in England, but it can be a real threat to a business. One of the most valuable commodities a business has is its employees. Employees are the lifeblood of any business as they possess the knowledge, experience and data which enable to business to function. Therefore there is a temptation for a competitor to try and gain an advantage by tempting or inducing an employee of a rival company. The calculated instruction of a Professional Investigator to carry out surveillance could identify these Risks and enable the business to rectify the situation.

Local Authorities often employ Professional Private Investigators to carry out Surveillance for different reasons. Where Children are at Risk, Social Services may want surveillance carried out to assess what Risk a Child may face be in Care Proceedings. Anti-social behaviour and neighbour disputes may require evidence to be gathered by surveillance using Professional Surveillance Operatives. In these circumstances the local authority will have the Surveillance Authorised within the limits and principles of RIPA – The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).

Trading Standards may not have the resource or equipment needed to carry out Surveillance of people suspected of various offences such dealing with Fake or Smuggled Tobacco, or selling and storing Counterfeit Goods. They may in these circumstances employ Private Surveillance Operatives to assist in Intelligence Gathering and Obtain Evidence. Again this type of Surveillance will need a RIPA Authority.

Members of the Public may instruct Professional Private Investigators for many different reasons, but the most commonly recognised reason would be for Matrimonial Reasons where one partner may suspect the other partner may be cheating. Before it became easier for couples to Divorce, it was essential to prove adultery and Private Investigators were often hired to gather evidence of such adultery using surveillance. Today the reason may be slightly different, but there is often an urge to confirm suspicions or it may just be based on curiosity. In care proceedings or financial settlements it may be necessary to establish if one party is being entirely truthful. It is always advisable to seek the opinion of a solicitor before instructing a Professional Private Investigator. The evidence you are presented with may be of no benefit to your case. However curiosity often gets the better of some people and the need to know is so strong that it totally outweighs the benefits.

Before instructing a Private Investigators for Surveillance:

Instructing someone to carry out surveillance should not be something taken lightly. In real terms you asking someone to observe and follow someone and log their activities. The surveillance operative may also be taking video or still images of this person which may later be submitted as evidence. Therefore you need to be sure you are instructing a Professional who through years of experience has the knowledge and skill to carry out the operation to meet the needs of the client whilst remaining covert.

Instructing a Private Investigator to carry out surveillance is a very important aspect of an Investigation. You need to be sure that the company you instruct understands your requirements and can translate this into a Surveillance Plan which is not only cost effective but will meet your needs and have consideration for people involved in the operation including the “subject” of the surveillance.

If you have a situation where you need Surveillance, never view this as “an us and them situation”. Keep an open mind. You can never legislate for what a “subject” will do whilst under surveillance. An experienced Surveillance Operative will be patient and stick with the task, observing everything and waiting for the right opportunity to get the evidence.

I have spoken to many Private Investigators about Surveillance Operations and I am amazed that the main thing they want to talk about is the previous careers of their employees, the equipment they use and what they produce at the end of the operation. If the operation is not properly planned and carried out then it does not matter what their operatives did previously, what equipment they have because at the end of the operation the report you get back will be worthless.

What you have to understand, is that not every Private Investigator has the experience or resources to carry out Surveillance. A Detective Agency who mainly carries out Trace Enquiries for Debtors or Acts as Process Servers for Solicitors may not be the right agency to speak to about such an important issue as Surveillance. They may want to take the instruction from you because they want the fee, the fact they are not qualified through expertise and experience to carry out the operation is of no consequence to them.

Quite often the search for a Professional Surveillance Company will start with an internet search. Most will people will enter “Private Investigator” followed by the area where they live or trade from or the area where the subject lives or is likely to be. There will be some companies who appear at the “Top of Your Search Results” who have paid for the Advertising to Come at the Top. This does not mean that this company is the best option.

If you decide to speak to a company who is paying for their Advert to be at the Top of Search Engine Searches, find out about where there are based, what experience they have, are they a member of any Trade Associations, do they have the necessary Insurance Cover in Place and who will be doing the surveillance. You may find that you are talking to someone in London and you want someone put under Surveillance in the Midlands. If this is the case no doubt you will be told “we have agents in all parts / towns in the UK!” Well most of the companies do NOT have agents in all parts of the UK. What they really mean is that we want your instruction and we are going to sub-contract the work out.

Is this what you really want?

I suggest the answer is no!

In the case I have outlined above, what usually follows is that the Surveillance Operation is posted on an Investigators Open Forum and the Private Investigators of varying experience (some more than others) and skills (some more than others) will bid for the job. If the assignment is posted on one of this forums, it suggest that the Agency Offering the job has no Suitable Skilled Contacts in that area or that they are looking for the cheapest price to maximise their profit. They may not know the Operatives who will be carrying out the job and so there is absolutely no Quality Control and therefore the Risk to the Instructing Client is starting to increase.

Some Surveillance Companies will not post their Operations in Open Forums but will send their own employees / team to carry out the Operation. In these cases there is a High Level of Quality Control and the Risk to the Client is limited. There may be charges for travelling and subsidence factored into the fee but you may well find that it is still competitive as they will not be sharing the fee with numerous other sub-contractors.

Speak to the Operations Manager of the Surveillance Company. Ask how the assignment will be allocated and who will be carrying out the operation. Ask for a meeting with the Surveillance Company. When buying any other service, you would expect a face to face meeting with a representative of the company you are considering to employ. Surveillance is no difference.

The Professional Investigators will want to meet you. They will probably want to take you through an Impact Assessment regarding the investigation. They will want to take you through a process of Justifying the Surveillance based on Proportionality. The operation should be Risk Assessed and documented and you are within your rights to see a copy of the Risk Assessment. They will want information and intelligence so they can plan the surveillance. The key to a good surveillance operation is the intelligence and information that goes into the preparation and planning. Face to face you will be able to see who you are trusting with the information you are imparting to them and you will also be able to establish whether you can work with them. Remember the Professional Investigator will want repeat business from you some time in the future.

There is one company who we have spoken to who have said that they never meet clients; they only take instructions over the telephone or via email. They tried to tell me that no Professional Surveillance Company would ever meet with a Client! Well I beg to differ!

If you were told this you would have to ask yourself why they would say this. This work is not on a National Security Issue, it is hardly “James Bond” work. I believe it is possibly because they are probably very good at website design and search engine optimisation and very good at promoting and selling their business. They are probably sat miles away from where you want them to be and they probably are not Investigators at all, they have seen how some Investigators Trade and want a slice of their action. The job may be allocated to the cheapest bidder in some form of Dutch auction on an Investigators Forum. This type of activity is often referred to as Forum Foraging.

If you have decided surveillance is necessary and proportionate then make sure you get the best people to do the job. Insist on a meeting and if it is not possible to have to meeting on site, go and see the Surveillance Company at their offices or meet with them off site. You will find many smaller companies will work from home and do not have offices. This may not be a bad thing but it will give you an indication of the company you are dealing with. Many forum forages will be working from home and will not want a meeting with you as you will find them out for what they really are – “Forum Foragers”. Beware of 0845, 0800 telephone numbers and also PO Box addresses. This could be a method of hiding where they really are.

There are some excellent sub-contractor Surveillance Agents operating in the UK so why not ask for the details of the operatives that will be carrying out the work.

If you feel that the people who you are speaking to are more interested in getting the order and taking your money than asking directed questions and understanding you and your needs it is likely that they are not going to offer you a good service or value for money.

If you are happy that the company you are speaking to are Professional, Experienced and Capable, then the Risk to you is minimized and the likelihood of you getting a good result is improved. If you get the Result it will likely involve you taking some kind of action. If this is the case your case could rely on the Quality of the Evidence obtained, the way it is presented and it could mean the Surveillance Operatives attending Court or Tribunal to give evidence. Therefore knowing who these Operatives are is very important.

So where do I start my search to find the right Investigator.

The Association of British Investigators is a good place to start. You can look on their website and find an Investigator by area or Region. You could speak to your solicitor who may be able to recommend a company or you could do your own research to find a suitable company taking into account what I have discussed above.

As Licensing for Private Investigators has not yet been introduced at the time of writing this article, it is possible that anyone can trade at a private investigator with little or no experience. They could be a “Plasterer by Day and a So Called Private Investigator by Night” Licensing is expected to be implemented in 2015.

In addition to the licensing of individual investigators posibly in 2015, a British Standard has been developed to help providers of investigative services demonstrate their accountability at a time when the Government is implementing the licensing of such services.

BS 102000 – 2013 Code of Practice for the Provision of Investigative Services provides recommendations for the conduct, management, staffing and operational accountability for the provision of Investigative Services.

This code of practice may also be used by those who wish to purchase investigative services.

Businesses who achieve BS 102000 will have to show good business management, financial probity  and show that they are equipped to take on the relevant assignments. Employees and sub-contractors are vetted and the company has to show evidence that are capable of carrying out relevant investigations.

All assignments will be appropriately planned. Planning may include the preparation of certain documentation and the assessment of certain criteria, subject to size and complexity of the investigative assignment undertaken. This documentation and assessment may include some or all of the following:

  • Risk assessment.
  • Selection of investigators and allocation of responsibilities.
  • Timescales.
  • Geographical considerations.
  • Resources (including budget restraints), communication and logistics.
  • Liaison with relevant third parties.
  • Special requirements, including specific insurance and licensing requirements.

Information Gathering 

In order to ensure successful investigation information will be gathered using the following investigative techniques, as necessary:


  •  developing an investigation plan that takes into account financial, resource, time and legal constraints;
  • choosing appropriate investigative methods and resources;
  • systematically analysing, grading and corroborating information in order to establish patterns and links; and
  • accurately recording the details of gathered information and the results and findings of the investigation.

Searching for information and evidence: 

  • carrying out, sensitively and courteously, searches whilst maximizing opportunities to gather physical/potential evidence;
  • identifying and searching appropriate sources of information to support the investigation;
  • maintaining the confidentiality and security of information;
  • taking prompt and appropriate action when finding information, physical evidence or potential evidence; and
  • preserving the continuity and security of evidence.

Basic surveillance: 

  • preparing and planning the surveillance by:
  • specifying its objectives and working to them;
  • obtaining, where appropriate, the authority to carry it out;
  • identifying and allocating resources;
  • choosing and using appropriate, ethically acceptable and legal surveillance methods;
  • checking that any equipment to be used is working properly; and
  • ensuring that, if others are to be involved in the surveillance, they know and understand their roles and their responsibilities;
  • when possible, reconnoitring the target’s location;
  • locating and occupying the correct surveillance start position;
  • using surveillance equipment in accordance with manufacturers’ or suppliers’ instructions;
  • taking prompt and appropriate action if contact with the target is lost;
  • communicating, when required, with others who are contributing to the surveillance;
  • recording and, when required, relaying accurate information about observed targets to others who are contributing to the surveillance;
  • operating in a manner which protects the well-being of everyone involved in the surveillance;
  • accurately transcribing written or recorded surveillance notes;
  • confirming the extent to which the quality, quantity and relevance of recorded information supports the surveillance objectives;

If you are looking to hire an Investigation company to conduct employee surveillance, choose a Surveillance Company who has attained BS102000 must be at the forefront of anyone procuring these types of services. This will Reduce the Risk to the Client.

For more information please contact our head office on: 01623 451 961