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Justifying Unethical Decisions

Last week I received a call from a private investigator in Arizona. He assists families who are searching for missing children, and was interested in tracking down a missing teenage girl by using cell towers. He had found us through a blog post that I made a few years back.

He went on to tell me that he had a contact at AT&T who was able to provide him with the cell tower information from the last known location of the missing child’s cell phone, and that he needed an expert to help decipher the information and nail down a location.

I pointed him in the direction of Scott Ross, who is an expert in this area.

But there was something about the call that struck me.

He was able to get the cell tower information about the missing girl through a “source” within AT&T.

This is not information that should ever be allowed to leave the confines of AT&T’s servers without some sort of court order.

I am sure the investigator and the AT&T source who provided the information knew that.

I am also quite sure that they justified their decisions by telling themselves that what they were doing was for a missing child who might be in danger. And that they were just trying to help a grieving family.

But what if these cell tower records were for a man trying to track the location of his ex-girlfriend?

Does that change the story?

Regardless of the circumstances, are investigators who use unethical (and sometimes illegal) means to obtain desired results able to justify their actions?

It’s a critical question that every private investigator faces.

And when a challenge like this is faced, how it is handled says a lot about you and your company.

To me, the answer is a clear no.

Every. Single. Time.

The end does not justify the means.

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8 replies
  1. Kate
    Kate says:

    Along the same lines as Brian’s thought process, the caller could have been an estranged or ex-husband who was potentially abusive and attempting to track down a wife who was trying to remain anonymous and, most importantly, alive. He could have been clever enough to pose as the PI looking for realistic info.

    Similar situations occur in hotels. As an experienced manager, I have been aware husbands have tried to sweet talk their way into getting copies of hotel room keys to ex-wives’ hotel rooms. They concoct plausible stories and stress the fact that they share the same last name to convince young, naive front desk agents to trust them with a set of keys only to place the ex-wife in potential danger. Training hotel staff to be aware of these scenarios is crucial.

  2. Billivan Johnson
    Billivan Johnson says:

    Brian, as usual you are right on point about this. There are many reasons why information like that should not be given out without verification and the proper channels.

  3. Scott
    Scott says:

    until it’s your kid, then you would move hell and earth to protect him or her. hypocrite.

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      Scott’s comment is foolish and naive. I just hope he’s not a licensed P.I. If this child had ever been in danger, law enforcement would have done what the P.I. was asking to have done. We did that all the time and in a perceived emergency, exigent circumstance in other words, it can be done within hours or even minutes, and with a warrant. All cell phone providers have a dedicated LE only number that is staffed 7/24. Obviously, there’s a reason cops weren’t involved in this case and it had to do with moving hell or earth.

      There is never a valid justification for illegal and unethical behavior, unless, of course, you’re Barack Obama. Then you can decide which laws to enforce and which ones to ignore.

      • CJ
        CJ says:

        Scott’s comment is foolish and naive. I just hope he’s not a licensed P.I. If this child had ever been in danger, law enforcement would have done what the P.I. was asking to have done. We did that all the time and in a perceived emergency, exigent circumstance in other words, it can be done within hours or even minutes, and with a warrant. All cell phone providers have a dedicated LE only number that is staffed 7/24. Obviously, there’s a reason cops weren’t involved in this case and it had nothing to do with moving hell or earth.

        There is never a valid justification for illegal and unethical behavior, unless, of course, you’re Barack Obama. Then you can decide which laws to enforce and which ones to ignore.

      • Brigitte maier
        Brigitte maier says:

        Surely you meant george bush, one of the most unethical, cowardly, calculated and dishonest US presidents ever, besides maybe Nixon, another treasure of honesty and ethics!!!

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