Forensic Technology and Consulting: Licensing Requirements for Private Investigators

By Andrew Neal, Regional Director of Forensic Technology and Consulting, TLS

A number of US states have regulations that require forensic professionals to be licensed as a private investigator (PI). As a firm or corporate legal department shopping for forensic services, it’s important to be aware of local licensing requirements, as they may have a direct affect on your vendor selection process across different states and municipalities.

Several states, including Texas, Michigan, and Georgia, explicitly require digital forensics practitioners to be licensed under the state’s private security industry regulations. In other states, the variation of regulation can create some gray areas. Consequently, it is a good idea to check with your vendor about licensing and compliance in your location.

Regulatory requirements are slightly different for each state. Most states require that company owners apply for a Private Investigation Business License. After attaining a business license, employees of the company can then become licensed detectives. In Texas, for example, the company must have an investigations manager with three consecutive years of investigation-related experience or a degree in criminal justice. The manager must get fingerprinted, pass a test on state laws, and undergo an FBI background check. There are also training and continuing education requirements.

Although some states may not require a PI license to practice, cities may have their own requirements. Alabama, for example, does not have state-wide PI licensing regulations, but the city of Mobile requires a city-issued private detective license. In Colorado, there is no mandatory licensing, but rather a voluntary licensing program that allows you to call yourself a “licensed private investigator.”

There are several reasons why states regulate private investigators. As private investigators are usually defined in regulations as people who gather and present evidence for use in court, the regulations are intended to enforce minimum standards of conduct, training, and accountability. They aim to make sure nobody with a felony record gets licensed and that license holders are properly insured. The rules also prohibit certain unethical behaviors, determine if you can carry a badge, and regulate how you can advertise.

Global organizations must also be mindful of licensing issues in other countries, knowing that some countries have no PI regulations, some require licensing, and others prohibit all investigations except by law enforcement. The UK, for example, has been considering regulation for several years, but has yet to actually pass legislation. Each country is different in terms of what they consider an investigation and whether they regulate the forensic practitioners or investigators. Many countries have very restrictive privacy laws compared to the United States, but the licensing of private investigators is still largely in flux.

As a global company in the e-discovery and digital forensics business, TransPerfect Legal Solutions is licensed in multiple states, including Texas and Michigan, and we have licenses pending in several other states. To make sure we are in compliance with regulations, we are always monitoring changes in licensing requirements for operations in the United States and around the world.