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Posts Categorized: Investigations

Surveillance Law | Enhanced View

Essentially, surveillance enhanced view allows one to view a scene with more clarity and detail by increasing or improving in value, quality, desirability, or attractiveness.

Currently, there are no existing laws regarding enhanced view, but rather guidelines outlined in rulings determined on a case-by-case basis.

During any given surveillance, there can be three forms of enhanced view. They include:

  1. Assuming an aided, unnatural, or contorted position
  2. Illuminating an otherwise darkened area
  3. Magnifying what is visible to the “naked” eye, or otherwise not visible

The use of enhancement devices, in and of themselves, are lawful. Surveillance professionals often use tools that can magnify a view, such as binoculars and zoom lenses on cameras and camcorders. Using such methods has been upheld in many instances as constitutionally proper; however, not all enhanced views are appropriate. Until such time that the Supreme court addresses the issue of enhancement methods or tools, the lower courts will continue to use their discretion in determining which enhancements are lawful.

Let’s address some of these issues. The lawfulness of the surveillance is often determined by the positioning of the investigator in relation to the location of the subject.  To avoid this jeopardy, the professional investigator must frequently assess, “to what extent are my enhancement efforts violating a subject’s expectation of privacy?”

We have not yet seen decisions on surveillance of activities on public streets or other public areas being a violation of the Fourth Amendment. However, surveillance in public areas such as public restrooms or dressing rooms, and locker rooms, may violate the civil rights of those viewed.

The courts have established specific guidelines of visual enhancements when the area under observation is more private, such as a home or fenced yard; however, those guidelines vary in different jurisdictions. In that light, an investigator may observe a home from public areas, such as parking lots, public streets, or any area that can be accessed by the public.

Courts support photographing activities that can be seen with unaided vision or enlarging photographs that merely enable one to see items that were in plain view, though in greater detail.  In the opinion of the courts, guidelines for using mechanical devices to enhance a view into the home also differ dramatically.

Can a surveillance professional use an enhancement device to view from a distance (to avoid detection) any activity that could have been observed with the unaided vision from a closer vantage point, i.e., enhanced views that are confined to the window area of a residence? Yes. Any activity viewed inside the home must be viewable from a public space. Courts look more favorably on the use of enhancement devices, which simply confirm those activities observed with unaided vision.  An enhanced view is lawful in instances when the observations are not in an attempt to see something that is not in plain view without the enhancement device.

Finally, it is important to remember that each situation is uniquely different when dealing with legal issues of enhanced views.  In general, visual enhancement devices are not illegal, however, their application relates to specific parameters.  These parameters are determined by the particular area in which the effort is conducted and the protections that area affords to the people in these areas.  The protections may be established by a subject’s reasonable expectations as well as the efforts of the subject to ensure privacy.

This article is not intended to provide legal advice. It is the sole opinion of the author. Be sure to seek professional legal guidance. And perhaps equally as necessary, communicate what you are doing with your client as they would likely experience any adverse outcome of a surveillance operator’s illegal or unethical activities.

For further information about our professional surveillance capabilities, call (253) 852-7000 or complete the online Contact Form.

Pacific Northwest Association of Investigators 2019 Winter Training Conference

Another successful PNAI training event was held this past week at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission in Burien, WA!

It was a fast-paced day beginning with attendees learning about the latest in cellular telephone forensics from Gordon Mitchell of Future Focus.

Gordon Mitchell presenting on telephone forensics

Sandra Robb of Capital Accounting provided updates on the latest Federal and State tax laws, and things we all can do to mitigate or prevent those unintended audits.

Sandra Robb discussing tax law and audit prevention.

The lunch networking session was led by Martin Radley of Radstone Investigations and Consulting.  Attendees introduced themselves and spoke of the challenges they expected this coming year and how they were going to manage or overcome them.  A very informative topic!

After lunch, effective web design and the myths of Search Engine Optimization were explained in detail by Marty Longe from Umbrella Graphics, the Trident website designer.

Marty Longe presenting on web design and SEO.

And the last presentation of the day was on Surveillance Best Practices, paneled by PNAI members Mike Canaan from Trident Investigative Service, Inc., two other local investigators Keith Shores and Andy Holmes. Audience participation was high during this presentation, with lots of questions and answers provided.  The exchanges were so many that the program was not completed before the end of the day. Attendees asked that panel to reconvene at the next conference to complete the presentation, which we will do.

We are excited to report that our attendance from the last or prevent, with attendee responses being overwhelmingly positive!  We expect an even greater turnout at the next training event.

Stay tuned!  Keith Shores, the PNAI Education Committee Chair will be announcing the dates of the next PNAI Training Conference scheduled for this early Fall.

Benefits of Multiple Surveillance Operators

One of the most challenging aspects of our business is working with clients who might otherwise express unrealistic expectations of what can be accomplished in surveillance.  As crime and terrorism have been forefront in our minds, our society, in general, is more vigilant of their surroundings.  And then add the often significant component of urban congestion and traffic to the equation, and it can be extremely difficult to reach a successful conclusion to surveillance.

How do we increase our odds?  Often a second or third surveillance operative is appropriate for the scope of work.  This is where the question is asked; does a second or third surveillance operator increase the odds of obtaining your objective? In most cases, yes.


  • More eyes on a subject or subject location
  • Ability to watch multiple exit points
  • Ability to have stationary eyes on the subject while other operators pick up the departure
  • Parallel follow-cars and the ability to change what’s viewed in the subject’s rearview mirror
  • More easily plan for complicated or multiple possible subject departure routes

WHAT CAN YOU, THE CLIENT, DO TO INCREASE OUR SUCCESS?  We know that information is power.  As it is available to you, provide us with:

  • Current, and detailed subject information to include physical description and photographs
  • Vehicle information
  • “Significant other” details
  • Social media and activities
  • Known support addresses — family, friends, medical providers, legal advisors, etc.

TECHNOLOGY WE USE TO FACILITATE OUR SUCCESS comes in many forms.  This may include, but not limited to:

  • Suitable surveillance vehicle options for the environment we work or the subject we follow
  • Each team member has a two-way radio with both direct and repeater capability
  • Maintain a continuous team conference call on the operators cellular phone
  • Team location or positioning on a shared smartphone or tablet map applications
  • Shared chronological field notes are taken live on a smart phone or tablet
  • Multiple covert video camera options to be used in nearly any environment or scenario

THE CHALLENGES AND IMPEDIMENTS TO SUCCESS REMAIN. While no one can guarantee results, there are many conditions and factors outside of our control which can negatively affect an outcome.  Examples are:

  • Intersections and traffic lights
  • Traffic and area congestion
  • A subject who is naturally suspicious
  • Someone who has been counseled by their legal advisors to watch for surveillance
  • A subject who performs a SDR (Surveillance Detection Route)
  • A subject who uses multiple modes of transportation such as being on foot, using public transportation, or ride share.
  • Inadequate, or no suitable surveillance positions to watch our intended subject or activity
  • And then there is the subject who does not leave their home or work on the day we conduct our surveillance.

Trident Investigators have a broad-spectrum of experience from federal and local law enforcement, military, corporate and legal investigative fields, with knowledge, experience, and equipment that exceeds any other investigative agency in the Pacific Northwest which will significantly increase the opportunity for positive results.  Can you afford to not be successful?

Want to know more?  Call us at (253) 852-7000 during our office hours 8:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. Pacific Time, Monday through Friday. When calling after hours or if you reach our voice mail, please leave a message and our on-duty investigator will return your call at the earliest opportunity.

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