Rules you need to know before spying on others -

Spying: When it's legal and when it's not

From nanny cams to hidden tape recorders, spying has come a long way in recent years.

For about $40, you can purchase an array of spy gadgets that snap high-quality video and record good sound.

Teens can catch thieving roommates, spouses can catch cheating partners, and workers can catch sexual harassment in action.

Before you pretend you're 'James Bond', consider what's at stake, and what's against the law in your state.

From coat hangers that keep a close eye, to hidden cameras in hats and tissue boxes that take a sneak peak, modern technology has made spying a skill for the masses with dozens of trinkets that can help you obtain evidence.

When used incorrectly, they can also get you into trouble.

"Goodness gracious, the ways and means that people can be spied on these days so easily so cheaply," said D. Scott Broyles, a professor of criminal law at Charlotte School of Law.

While being a gumshoe can be fun, private investigators say spying should only be used to confirm a suspicious feeling in your stomach such as "When two plus two doesn't equal four" according Licensed Private Investigator and 'Help U Spy' owner Tom Caune.  

When it's time to get actual proof, make sure your purpose is getting information you have a legitimate right to know like situations involving your child, a spouse, or your safety.

"There's one thing for you to say it in court, there's another thing to say it and back it up with some type of evidence," Caune said.

It's when people use a calculated plan of revenge, or a malicious motive, that a hidden camera comes with serious consequences.

For example, catching a cheater is one thing, but broadcasting it online is another.

"The level of criminal sanction and civil liability is going to increase dramatically," said Broyles.

Before you don a spy cap, investigate state laws for both video and audio recordings.

Each state deals with definitions of privacy and spying differently, plus there are parameters from the Federal Electronics Communication Privacy Act. 

You can end up paying thousands of dollars out of pocket for violating these laws especially if you bug a room, car or toy, and you wrongfully ruin someone's reputation, career or relationships.

"I think you need to take a deep breath and think about what you found because you are impacting a lot of people's lives with what you are doing," Caune advises.

Then think about the desired result. Spying can give you piece of mind that nothing really is the matter, or it can lead to a confrontation or court case that will change lives.

Remember, you're a novice and not James Bond.

The most important gadget a spy has is common sense and the good guidance of an attorney or investigator who will warn that if you can't be a sleuth who's also a decent human being, you better be a well-informed one.

Additional Information:

  • According to the U.S. Department of Labor, most states as well as the District of Columbia require private detectives and investigators to be licensed although requirements vary.
  • Employment of private detectives and investigators is expected to increase 22 percent over the 2008-2018 decade much faster than the average for all occupations. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor)
  • According to Forbes Magazine, employers can legally keep tabs on workers by looking at company-owned phone records instead of personal phone records. Employers should also create policies about these practices, and make them very public to their employees.
  • It is illegal to place a G.P.S. Tracker on someone else's vehicle without their knowledge. (Source: D. Scott Broyles, Charlotte School of Law)
  • Most states mandate that at least one party needs to be aware that a phone conversation is being recorded. You cannot tape another conversation between two people where both are not aware. 

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