Let’s Talk Surveillance: What Can a Private Investigator Do?

As part of the work we do as a private investigator in Knoxville, we are often asked to carry out surveillance. There are many different reasons why someone might be interested in surveillance ranging from cheating spouses and child custody cases to corporate espionage and fraud. Whatever the reason, the important thing is that it is carried out discreetly, professionally, and above all else - legally!

Let's take a look at what a private investigator in Knoxville can legally do when it comes to surveillance work.

What is Surveillance?

Over the years, and as technology has evolved, what counts as surveillance has gone through many changes. We have gone beyond all-night stakeouts and tailing the target to include more sophisticated surveillance methods, including GPS tracking, online activity, and more. Technology has made it much easier for a private investigator in Knoxville to gather the necessary information. However, they must do so in accordance with the law.

Is Public Surveillance Fair Game?

As a general rule of thumb, public information and public acts can be observed and documented by a private investigator. However, the legislation relating to this does vary between states, so it is essential to stay current on the applicable laws. Under Tennessee Law, a private investigator in Knoxville can video or photograph someone in a public area as long as the image would not offend or embarrass an ordinary person and as long as the photos' purpose is not for sexual gratification. In short, it is perfectly legal to record surveillance of individuals as long as they are on public property and there is no expectation of privacy. However, Tennessee is a one-party consent state when it comes to recording audio, so unless the private investigator is part of the conversation with their target, they would not be able to record audio. They also cannot leave a recording device behind to capture audio after they go.

Social Media Surveillance

One of the significant changes to surveillance that a private investigator in Knoxville might make good use of is the rise of social media! It is legal for an investigator to monitor social media and use any publicly posted information as part of their surveillance efforts. Not only do social media platforms like Facebook encourage location check-ins, but images uploaded to the platform will also have geographic information embedded in them, which can be extracted to track someone's whereabouts. It is an excellent way to narrow down the locations a target visits frequently, giving them a starting point for their search. It can also help to prove that the individual was somewhere they weren't supposed to be! Beyond tracking locations, it is also possible to watch and see who the individual interacts with regularly. These are all legal ways to use social media.

GPS Tracking

One area of surveillance that is a grey area for a private investigator in Knoxville is GPS tracking. It is easy to obtain small devices that can be attached to vehicles to allow location tracking. This can be helpful evidence in establishing the places visited. However, there is some debate over whether or not this is an invasion of privacy. In 2017, a case in Georgia saw the jury rule in favor of a private investigator using a GPS tracking device, saying it was attached to the outside of the vehicle while in a public space. It was determined that the vehicle would have been visible to anyone via other surveillance devices, including traffic cameras, surveillance cameras, and even eyewitnesses. However, in 2011 the Supreme Court ruled that attaching a tracking device without a warrant could be deemed a breach of the 4th Amendment. In Tennessee, the law prohibits installing a location tracking device on a vehicle without the owner's consent. This means that a private investigator in Knoxville may only use this type of surveillance if their client owns the vehicle and permits the device. This can be useful in infidelity cases where the cheating spouse may be driving a vehicle owned by the client.

Kendall Investigations offers quality surveillance and private investigation services. We are leading experts in video and photographic evidence, all of which is collected professionally, discreetly, and legally. We will find it for you when you need to uncover the truth.

Uncover the truth!


Ken Shull served as a Special Agent with the FBI for almost 25 years and was head of the FBI Polygraph program until his retirement in 2001. At that time he set up the Kendall Investigations practice as a private investigator in Knoxville, TN offering Polygraph services, private investigations, and security guards. Ken is a member of the American Polygraph Association and The American Association of Police Polygraphists.

The Truth is Still the Truth Even if No One Believes it, A Lie is Still a Lie Even if Everyone Believes it.