According to the internet, A private investigator (often abbreviated to PI and informally called a private eye), a private detective, or inquiry agent, is a person who can be hired by individuals, groups, or NGOs to undertake investigatory law services. Private investigators often work for attorneys in civil and criminal cases.
In this article, we will break down in the context of the Singaporean market, what exactly is a Private Investigator, what they can legally do, and everything you need to know of a PI in Singapore .
Hiring a Private Investigator in Singapore
In Singapore, private investigators run a thriving business. Private investigators (“PI”s) draw business from all manners of activities, ranging from spousal infidelity to maid indiscretion.
According to a 2011 Durex survey, which polled 506 Singaporeans, 19% of men and women have been unfaithful to their spouses. A recent news report interviewed a family in Singapore which spent thousands of dollars hiring a private investigator to keep tabs on their maid.
The issue of PI fees has also attracted controversy recently. In 2013, the Singapore High Court allowed a wife to claim only a sum of $10,000 from her philandering husband as a contribution for a $55,000 PI assignment investigating the husband’s adulteries, citing the unusually large size of the bill as a reason.
The following provides a brief overview of the private investigation industry, as well as the related legal issues.
Types of Work Private Investigators Perform
Private investigators execute a wide variety of work, including (but not limited to):
- Maid surveillance;
- Employee movement surveillance – (in particular, key personnel);
- Spousal surveillance (to investigate possible adultery);
- Children surveillance;
- Finding missing persons or property;
- Family member gambling-related movements;
- Trademark or copyright infringement corporate matters; as well as
- General investigation to obtain evidence to be used in civil or criminal matters.
Type of Work that Requires Special Approval
By law, assignments investigating political figures, foreign diplomats, consuls, or their families, as well as the conduct of surveillance on certain protected (or militarily sensitive) places, foreign consulates, government buildings, departure and entry checkpoints, or certain private schools, require the special approval of the Singapore Police.
Type of Illegal Work Private Investigators Cannot Perform
Private investigators are legally required to undergo training and hold licenses issued by the Singapore Police. As a result, a PI will be able to advise the client as to the legality of the methods used in the investigation.
The legality of hidden spy cameras depends on their usage. As of 2019, there are no specific privacy laws in Singapore. A spycam is generally used by PIs to film an investigation target or location, but to stay within the boundaries of the law, such cameras are usually only trained at public places or places owned by the client (e.g. the main door of a client’s house, or the living room, for instance, to track a spouse or maid’s activities).
However, if the use of the spycam involves housebreaking, insulting a woman’s modesty, or the recording and storing of obscene material, said usage may constitute criminal offenses. In a divorce matter, the PI or the client runs the risk of being prosecuted or countersued if illegal methods of recording and spying are used. (For more information on how to gather evidence to support a divorce application, see the section below).
Additionally, other activities, such as hacking into the private digital accounts of individuals (e.g. Facebook accounts) may run afoul of Singapore’s laws, such as the Computer Misuse Act.
Process and Charges
- The PI will first need to obtain from the client his identification (passport or NRIC), as required by the Private Security Industry Act;
- The PI will generally converse with the client over the phone, and set up a meeting if necessary;
- The client will need to state his objective, the timing of the surveillance required (e.g. full day, or half-day);
- Generally, PIs charge by the hour or charge a lump sum for their services (according to some reports, a 30-hour case may cost between $2,000 to $3,000). The charges depend on the duration, location, equipment, and manpower used. Additionally, a deposit may need to be made. It is prudent to compare charges and fees across a number of firms, as PI fees are not regulated by the Singapore authorities;
- The client will need to sign a letter of authorization;
- If need be, the client may request the PI to attend court;
- The PI agency is also legally required to keep records of the client, the investigation details (e.g. time spent), and information about its PIs
- The PI agency is legally bound to keep the information obtained in the performance of its duties or in the course of its business of a licensed private investigation agency confidential.
How to Prove the Grounds for Divorce
In Singapore, pursuant to the Women’s Charter, a divorce may be obtained generally by proving adultery or unreasonable behavior. Because of the legal concerns surrounding the methods used to obtain methods to prove sexual misconduct with a third party, PIs sometimes recommend a different strategy, which is to obtain indirect evidence to prove adultery or unreasonable behavior.
For instance, this may include recording a spouse entering a budget hotel with a third party or training a camera in the living room of the matrimonial home to record the spouse’s meetings with a third party.
A private investigator in Singapore might not just be involved in catching criminals. Their work requires them to gather information for clients of diverse backgrounds.For instance, if you are looking at forming a business partnership, you can hire private investigators in Singapore to conduct a thorough background check on your potential partners for any possibility of dishonesty.
Private investigators in Singapore can also help in your personal matters. These could be either finding a missing person or finding out whether your partner is having adultery behind your back.
Whatever the case, it is advisable to look for a reliable private investigator and be approved by the Singapore Police Force.
Picking the Right Private Investigator
In Singapore, the Private Security Industry Act, as well as the relevant subsidiary legislation, regulate the business activities of the private investigation industry. All PIs and their respective agencies must be licensed before they can carry on the business of a PI.
Also, the PI must comply with the Code of Conduct. He must not give any false representation to any person regarding his level of training, skill, or qualification as a private investigator. As a client, you should check out the business address or office of the PI agency to accredit its reliability. Additionally, you should find out more about the PI’s previous cases, as well as its record-keeping methods, to ensure that you will be fairly charged for their services.
If you’re interested, we’ve also written an article on other things to look out for when hiring a private investigator in Singapore.