According to Bo, the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently charged several law firms and private investigators for illegally hacking into people’s accounts to obtain information for strengthening their cases.
The law does not allow lawyers and private investigators to hack into accounts or hire others to do it for them. Not only is information retrieved via hacking inadmissible in court, but this practice is also questionable and unethical.
For many attorneys, hiring a private investigator is strategically and financially beneficial. An experienced investigator will have the resources to find information affordably and efficiently. However, these attorneys may not be able to use evidence uncovered by cyber-hacking, which could threaten their case.
Federal prosecutors have been cracking down on licensed private investigators that advertise themselves as hackers-for-hire. Law firms retain their services to collect information related to a pending case. In one allegation, prosecutors charged two San Francisco private investigators for hacking into Skype and email accounts to retrieve information about pending legal matters.
The attorney could be liable for this “backdoor” conduct and may face charges as a result. Pretexting, or using a different identity to gather information, is a crime.
When hiring a private investigator, it is important to ask how he or she plans to gather the information you require. It is unethical to remain ignorant of the process, and it is illegal to hire private investigators to break the law in a manner that offers plausible deniability of unethical or potentially illegal activities.