Home·Can Private Investigators Use Information on Social Media? Here’s How it Works
This post was originally published by El Dorado Insurance. It is reprinted here with permission.
Social Media Investigation?
With social media being a wealth of personal information stretching years into the past, it’s no surprise that these platforms have become treasure troves for all kinds of investigations. But at the same time, it is important for private investigators to know the boundaries when diving into social media – and to keep in mind how social media data fits into a larger investigation. Here’s what private investigators can do with social data, and when they are allowed to access it.
Social Media and the Reasonable Expectation of Privacy
What happens to private data that is posted on social media? Can it simply be collected as evidence? Do the wishes of the social media account holder make a difference? Fortunately, a lot of court time has already been spent on this issue, and it’s more or less resolved at this point: Social media platforms are considered public places. If someone posts their data to a public platform like this, that data cannot be held to the “reasonable expectation of privacy” that prevents other types of data from being gathered.
In other words, if a private investigator can find information on social media, they can use it for a case or hand it over as evidence to an attorney without worrying about legality. If data is limited to a circle of particular friends or a group, then private investigators probably won’t be able to access it unless they are invited into that particular group (which may be an option if the PI doesn’t lie or misrepresent themselves – a bit more on this below).
The Information PIs Collect on Social Media
Social media information is fair game if a PI can access it. But what sort of information can investigators collect? There isn’t really a limit for visual vs. text-based information. So, any photos, reposted images, hashtags, captions, text posts, or comments on other posts can be used by the private investigator. This also includes any visual information posted on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. PIs have also found it very useful to look for certain types of geographical data (where photos are geotagged) and career information (available on sites like LinkedIn). This data and related metadata must be carefully cataloged and described – a simple print screen page is not high-quality evidence and could be challenged.
However, it’s important to remember that any social media data gathered must be 1) accurate, no apparent lies or exaggerations, and 2) relevant to the case at hand. This is a good sign that the data can be submitted as evidence without problems. On a practical level, there may also be so much social information that it would take too long to look at it all, which poses a different kind of challenge: This is one reason that some PIs are becoming specialists in social media investigation and searches.
Granting Access to Social Media Accounts
Suppose someone has locked down their social media account and most information is restricted. This is a foggier area, but one approach that has worked in the past is to simply ask a judge for a warrant. Demonstrate a sufficient likelihood that a social account holds pertinent information, and a judge should be able to grant access for a closer look.
The catch, of course, is that this applies to official investigations where a PI would most likely be working for an attorney, not independent investigations for a direct client. It’s important to explain these limitations to clients when starting a search for online data. Information that is to be used in court needs to be gathered by a professional third party, so a client can’t simply bring you social media data they’ve found and expect it to be successful evidence.
PIs Still Can’t Access Data Illegally
Trespassing and theft laws still apply to PIs when gathering social media info. In other words, keep it online and don’t do anything illegal. Key points include:
- No breaking into homes: You can’t break into a home (or business) to access social media accounts on a computer where they may all be unlocked. That’s a clear example of breaking the law.
- No hacking electronic devices: Likewise, you can’t electronically break into someone’s phone to access information. That includes any hacking methods, stealing the phone, etc.
- No phishing attempts: PIs can’t gain access to social media information by pretending to be someone else, or by knowingly connecting with a social media account of someone represented by a lawyer in the case you are on. The law is still making up its mind at this point, but essentially you need to avoid any fraud or appearance of fraud.
The Stored Communications Act
While it’s not necessarily relevant to a private investigation, it’s important to keep in mind that in the past social media platforms have used the Stored Communications Act to refuse to provide social media data right from their own servers to law enforcement organizations. This refusal has been challenged in several ways and the ultimate result is still a bit unclear, but generally social media companies themselves will only provide information for a clear criminal case, only upon request from law enforcement.
Final Notes: Validation and Confirmation are Still Important
For a final reminder, we want to point out that it’s still important to validate any information that you may collect off social media. Make sure it’s not fake and have other sources of data that corroborate any important details! Social media is important these days, but it’s only part of the picture for a successful investigation.
Shaun is the owner of Red Door Investigations. He has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Arlington and is a licensed pilot and certified scuba instructor.
Can Relationships Overcome Infidelity?
Infidelity and cheating are viable threats to any intimate relationship. Predicaments of an affair are a possibility for anyone, especially during this era of technology and virtual anonymity. Betrayals of relationship integrity, whether through infidelity, cheating, or adultery are, unfortunately, more common than one would think. If the couple has children, the fallout can be even more devastating. The following statistics help to illustrate the possibility of adultery occurring in one’s relationship:
- 40% of unmarried couples and 25% of married couples experience at least one incident of infidelity or cheating at some point within the relationship.
- 70% of all Americans engage in an affair of one type or another at some point in their marital life.
- 45% of men and 35% of women have been either sexually or emotionally intimate with someone other than their committed partner.
- 45-50 % of married women and 50-60% of married men engage in extramarital affairs at some point in their relationships.
That Sounds Bad! Is My Relationship Doomed?
No, but it will take some work. It may seem hopeless to repair a relationship that has been damaged by one of the ultimate betrayals. Cheating is the one error in judgment that is considered to be a deal-breaker for most relationships. Trust is a necessity in all aspects of relationships. It stands to reason, therefore, that a violation of trust, such as infidelity and cheating, can cause great heartache and devastation within a marriage. Infidelity can undermine the bedrock and the very foundation of marriage itself. It can devastate, humiliate, and crumble a once-thriving and loving union.
However, with hard work and a resolved commitment to make the relationship succeed, many relationships can (and do) survive a bout of infidelity or cheating. Just because your partner shows signs of cheating does not mean they are being unfaithful. And, even if your partner is cheating, an instance of infidelity doesn’t mean that your marriage is doomed. Marriage and family therapist Gabrielle Applebury states “adultery is no longer a deal-breaker in many marriages,” and that “70 percent of couples actually stay together after an affair is discovered.”
It takes time, patience, and commitment to overcome this obstacle. Relationship advice author Kevin Darné said, “one of the most important things a betrayed person should do is take some time to determine if they really can forgive.” When both partners are committed to healing the damage and closing the gap caused by a significant breach of trust, many marriages do survive and, with concentrated effort and work, can actually become stronger and experience deeper levels of intimacy.
The Three Types of Intimacy
There are three specific tools to “affair-proof” your relationship: Self Intimacy, Conflict Intimacy, and Affection Intimacy. These three tools can be thought of as the mortar to the building blocks of any relationship. Every recipe for a long-term relationship has at least some of each of these three ingredients.
To start, self-intimacy is knowing what you feel, think, and want, and sharing these with your partner. It is being self-aware. When we are self-aware, we acknowledge what motivates us so that we can make healthier, more mature choices. We use our Emotional Self Awareness to strengthen Self Intimacy. Emotional intimacy is the foundation of any solid relationship. “Emotional intimacy can be defined as allowing yourself to connect more deeply with your partner through actions that express feelings, vulnerabilities, and trust”, says Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist in New York City and faculty member at Colombia University. It is being open and vulnerable and expressing that vulnerability to your partner. This brings couples closer together and enhances overall trust. And overall trust enhances intimacy.
Secondly, conflict intimacy is the ability to “do conflict well” in a relationship. This is a key tool that many couples lack. Differences and tension are inevitable in all relationships, especially those weathering infidelity, and being able to talk about these with one another is essential. Conflict intimacy is a marker of how well the couple can overcome tensions and difficulties within the relationship. The more effectively a couple can handle stress and tough times, the stronger and closer that couple is. Being able to “argue well” is a good indicator of how strong your relationship is. When couples can talk with respect and calm, they can begin the process of working through the negative, while simultaneously remaining in touch with the positive, loving aspects of their relationships.
And finally, affection intimacy is the “gravy” in the relationship; it is the sweet, sensual, and passionate/sexual aspects of the relationship. It feeds the love that grew early in the courtship. When a couple is good at Self Intimacy and Conflict Intimacy, their Affection Intimacy grows and flourishes. Their relationship is resilient and can handle differences. More importantly, they have a way of constructively dealing with the inevitable challenges that happen in all relationships. In this context, relationships with high levels of affection intimacy are able to discuss issues of personal integrity. Subsequently, they are better prepared to weather risks to relationship integrity. They are able to present fears and vulnerabilities in a way that does not harbor insecurities or view secrets as acceptable.
The Need for “Love” and the Influence of Commitment Phobia
We are all human. We cannot simply turn off our biological urges and ignore our instincts. However, we ARE able to control our behavior and not give in to our darkest desires. Unfortunately, many of us do succumb to this desire, especially during a vulnerable time in our life. It is very important that we maintain healthy communication within our relationships. We must do this with consistency, respect, understanding, and kindness.
Ultimately, human beings are social creatures; we all crave connection and unity with other people. In relationships that do not meet this need, it can be easy for one to stray. For some, it’s difficult to live up to the expectations of others. For others, commitment phobia and relationship anxiety are real and trying fears that can influence every relationship in their life. This is particularly true in romantic relations.
Some Common Causes of Commitment Phobia
Some common causes of commitment phobia can include:
- Worrying that the relationship will end without notice or signs.
- Fear of not being in the “right” relationship.
- Concern about being in an unhealthy relationship characterized by abandonment, infidelity, abuse, etc.
- Childhood trauma or abuse.
- Unmet childhood needs or attachment issues.
- Complicated family dynamics while growing up
For these reasons, some relationships are especially challenging to preserve, and cheating can result from some of these unresolved issues. Inevitably, not every relationship can withstand the transgression of an affair. Therefore, the unity and intimacy that once thrived in a healthy relationship can become extinguished and a single act of betrayal can develop into a casualty of the marriage.
What Happens if the Cheater Decides to Leave His or Her Spouse and Marry the Outsider?
Well, statistics are not in their favor. For instance, roughly 3% of men who engage in extramarital affairs marry their mistresses. Men who do marry their paramours have a subsequent divorce rate as high as 75%. In fairness, most second and third marriages fail regardless of why the first one ended. A couple beginning their relationship on the betrayal of a sacred vow may have the odds stacked against them. But a marriage constructed out of unconditional love can overcome many obstacles, including infidelity.
What Are the Next Steps if My Partner Has Cheated?
For couples wishing to repair a marriage upended by infidelity, carefully consider how to proceed. Before choosing to decide whether to stay together or go your separate ways, take the time to heal and understand what was behind the affair. This is not a time to make important family decisions based on emotional responses. A marriage constructed out of unconditional love can overcome many obstacles, but there is also honor in fighting for your vows. In this, honor can heal wounded hearts. The following are significant tools that one may choose to apply in the healing process of their marriage:
- First, seek guidance from a licensed psychologist and/or certified counselor who specializes in marriage and family therapy. Within these sessions, remain focused on the marital problems that built up to the affair. Do not stray away from the underlying problems. Find a therapist that encourages both parties to take accountability, this is imperative. Stay within boundaries. This is not the time to bring up any topics that existed prior to the relationship, such as childhood issues or any comparison of your current partner to those of previous relationships. A good marriage counselor will help you put the affair into perspective and help to identify the contributing factors that led to the affair. He or she can further provide both parties with the tools to rebuild and strengthen the relationship.
- Second, seek help from outside sources such as spiritual leaders, understanding and non-judgmental friends, and reading material that relates to infidelity. You may also consider utilizing resources on any of the issues that contributed to the affair. For example, self-help books, educational materials focusing on issues regarding control, and/or abusive tendencies within the relationship (if applicable) could be beneficial.
- Third, if outside influences played a part in the damage that accrued, such as sexual assault, then other sources of help or information are available. If sexual assault is a factor, then other, more pressing issues of grieving come into play. Educating yourself on the sensitive topic of sexual assault, as well as the effects and aftermath, can help you and your partner overcome this trauma. Take the time to learn how to support your partner in healing from a traumatic situation. The support will certainly enhance the healing process and forge a strong bond to move forward with further reconciliation. “The only effort earned is the effort received. You get what you give, so give it your all.” Attitude is everything in life, thus it is important to reflect positive vibes with a mentality of “I’m willing to do everything I can to make this work.”
- Finally, create a plan to re-establish trust, with the goal being reconciliation. If you were the responsible party and the betrayal is yours, admit your disloyalty to your partner, hold yourself accountable, and seek authentic forgiveness. If it was your partner who committed the infidelity, offer forgiveness when you are truly ready and seek understanding and reconciliation with the helpful tools described above.
You should never consider an act of retaliation by cheating on your partner in kind. The healing process necessitates that both parties work to regain lost trust and respect. Moving forward will probably get worse before it gets better. It can be done, but only if both parties are committed to healing the relationship, despite all the pain and suffering that both parties are feeling. If you can work together and stick it out, the results can be very rewarding. Subsequently, one can achieve a renewed marriage–a partnership that continuously flourishes and will likely exceed any previous expectations and emerge renewed. Ultimately, to move forward successfully, reconciliation must be the end goal for both partners.
Lead Private Investigator for Red Door Investigations
How does your divorce affect your children?
Divorce has an impact on everyone in the family. Not only are the parents directly affected (they are, after all, the ones who are making the decision to split up), but the children suffer the collateral damage. Children have no control over what is happening, they are not responsible, and they feel every bit of the turmoil that is going on around them. They often internalize the hurt and the anger and can hold themselves responsible. The married couple is responsible for the outcome. Children are the ones who silently internalize what is happening around them and can even blame themselves for what is happening to their parents. And, except in instances of extreme abuse or neglect, a custodial parent should never alienate the child from the other, non-custodial parent.
Children pay attention
Many times, in the heat of the moment during a divorce, parents tend to focus more on the negative issues between them, especially when there has been infidelity. All of the happy times of the life they shared are forgotten. The problems become the focus. They either do not notice what this does to the children or don’t pay attention to the potential damage they are causing. Children pick up on everything. They are like sponges and absorb all manner of things in their environment. Therefore, it is very important that we, as adults, also keep in mind that what we do has consequences for our children.
Check out this book
There is a book by Eleanor E. Maccoby and Robert H. Mnookin titled Dividing the Child: Social and Legal Dilemmas of Custody. It is published by Harvard University Press and expertly outlines this phenomenon in detail. If this topic interests you or you are concerned about how your children may be affected by your divorce, please check it out. You can pick up a copy on Amazon.
How we can help
If you or a loved one is facing a domestic dilemma, including litigation, we truly sympathize. Legal and family turmoils, such as child custody and divorce, can be very difficult emotionally and stressful for everyone in the family. When you add children to the mix, things can become extremely daunting and complex. It’s no secret that child custody and divorce proceedings are front-and-center to some of the most stressful times of our lives. Red Door Investigations fully supports the 50/50 child custody rule. Children need the love and attention of both parents. Even more so when things in the home are confusing and scary for them.
Unfortunately, with child custody and divorce situations, sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control. There is no other private investigation company that wants to help and support you more in your time of need. We have the means, the tools, and the methods to help during this stressful and emotional time. Leave it to us; our professional private investigators will work to uncover any physical evidence that could help your case. We will use our experience and expertise to help your divorce and/or child custody case reach a successful outcome.
Lead Private Investigator for Red Door Investigations
Does Your Spouse Show Any of These Signs of Cheating?
Has your significant other been acting differently than usual and you are wondering whether he or she might be cheating?
There are many behavior “signs” of cheating and infidelity. If you ask 100 experts, you will probably get 100 different answers. I did a pretty quick Google search and found countless lists similar in content to this one. The sources ranged from Psychology Today to Oprah. Many of the behaviors listed in these articles were pretty off-the-wall. However, when I began to look a bit deeper, I started noticing some trends and commonalities. The 20 behavior signs outlined in this article pretty accurately reflect a solid mixture of the behavior cues you should watch out for.
- The first thing to look for is changes in your spouse’s behavior and/or schedule. Staying out late, “working” more than usual, taking “business” trips that seem to come out of the blue with little notice or warning, and so on. These small deviations from your spouse’s normal schedule are usually the first clue that something is amiss.
- Another common sign of a cheating spouse is an unusual preoccupation with protecting their cell phone. This one is huge because it is often an indicator they are hiding something.
- Is your spouse or loved one more concerned about their looks or appearance than usual? They could be trying to impress someone new.
- There are more arguments in your relationship and the arguments are more frequent.
- They are spending more time away from home. This not only applies to work but can also mean going out with friends or co-workers more often.
- Your spouse or loved one receives phone calls during all hours of the day and/or night. They may also seek a safe haven away from the house or, more importantly, away from you to answer these calls. Increased need/desire for “privacy” can mean they are doing things they don’t want you to know about.
- They tell little white lies about where they are going. For instance, they say they need to run to the store but you find they are actually somewhere else, like at the gym.
- This one may seem obvious, but a man taking Viagra for the first time or a woman starting birth control.
- You smell perfume or cologne on your significant other that is not yours.
- Being overly private and/or protective of any electronic device, such as a computer, tablet, etc.
- You find a spare change of clothes in the car.
- Credit card receipts from purchases you don’t recognize. This is oftentimes a sign they are going out without you or buying gifts for someone else.
- A sudden and drastic change, up or down, in sexual behavior, desires, or intimacy in your relationship.
- Frequent and sudden anger outbursts toward you that have nothing to do with you. This is often a subconscious attempt to “distance” themselves from you emotionally or the relationship as it is now.
- There is a reluctance of intimacy or poor excuses for their behavior to be reluctant.
Common Things a Cheating Spouse May Say
- “He/she is just a friend.”
- “I am just not in the mood lately.”
- “I just need space.”
- “It’s not you, it’s me.”
- “Please respect my privacy.”
In closing, it is important to remember that seeing some of these signs in your mate is not proof that your partner is seeing someone else. More importantly, do not lose sight of the fact that you have invested a great deal of emotional energy into your relationship and, if the worst does end up being the case, please maintain hope that not all is lost. If you do happen to find irrefutable evidence of infidelity or cheating and you want to overcome this breach of trust, it is not hopeless. Couples overcome infidelity all the time. If you have any desire to work it out with your spouse, then I strongly encourage you to try. Just because you see some of these signs in your relationship does NOT mean that your partner is being unfaithful.
Furthermore, this list is by no means complete. There are many signs of a cheating spouse that do not make this list and there are instances where your spouse can show many of these behaviors and nothing is going on. The only way to know for sure is to get some proof. If you are unsure how to proceed, I would recommend hiring a local private investigator to gather some evidence for you before you accuse your significant other of any wrongdoing. Usually, most of our clients already know the truth and are just seeking reassurance and verification that what they suspect is actually what is happening. Follow your gut, but don’t make waves where there are none.
Shaun is the owner of Red Door Investigations. He has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Arlington and is a licensed pilot and certified scuba instructor.