PI Confidentiality: Not only do you have our assurance that your case is completely confidential, you have The Law to back it up!
We use Michigan’s PI confidentiality as an example. Michigan has a statue that specifically prohibits us from divulging any information about our clients:
338.840 Divulging of information; willful sale of or furnishing false information; penalty; privileged communications; notice and hearing.
- Any person who is or has been an employee of a licensee shall not divulge to anyone other than his or her employer or former employer, or as the employer shall direct, except as he or she may be required by law, any information acquired by him or her during his or her employment in respect to any of the work to which he or she shall have been assigned by the employer. Any employee violating the provisions of this section and any employee who willfully makes a false report to his or her employer in respect to any work is guilty of a misdemeanor.
- Any principal, manager, or employee of a licensee who willfully furnishes false information to clients, or who willfully sells, divulges, or otherwise discloses to other than clients, except as may be required by law, any information acquired during employment by the client is guilty of a misdemeanor and is subject to summary suspension of license and revocation of license upon satisfactory proof of the offense to the department. Any communications, oral or written, furnished by a professional or client to a licensee, or any information secured in connection with an assignment for a client, is considered privileged with the same authority and dignity as are other privileged communications recognized by the courts of this state.
- Suspension, revocation, or other action against a licensee shall be accompanied by notice and an opportunity for a hearing under the administrative procedures act of 1969, 1969 PA 306, MCL 24.201 to 24.328.
Michigan serves as a good example of strong PI confidentiality, but each state is unique. Unlike Michigan, many states do not offer protection of investigative files or reports from a valid subpoena. In such states like Texas, Florida, Illinois and California, if we are served with a valid subpoena for records, your file will likely have to be turned over to the requesting party. This holds true for both civil and criminal subpoenas in most jurisdictions.
Subpoenas aside, a private investigator has a duty to keep your information and investigation strictly confidential. One frustration of that we as private investigators have is that confidentiality and our clients’ requirements for discretion make it hard to publicize our frequent successes, but we understand that without that confidentiality, we could not serve our clients effectively.
An example of Federal case law on the extension of the attorney client privilege to a non-attorney as used by private investigators to protect their work product may also be enlightening.