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June 19, 2020

Under Surveillance

I recently came across an article written by a former investigator who was involved in spying insurance companies. As a private investigator, that article really intrigued me and upon scrolling through the comments section, I found out that people see investigators as a lowlife. But it’s not really clear from the comments how private investigators would fare with journalists in terms of social hierarchy.

To address the misconceptions that were pointed out in the article, let me first start with the title. The article has this for a title – I was a private investigator, spying for insurance companies. First of all, private investigators are not spies. We are investigating and not doing any kind of espionage, which is what the author has engaged in even if she is trying to cover that up.

As private investigators, we’re merely doing surveillance and that’s a legal activity. We conduct an investigation on a wide range of activities including insurance claims. Perhaps the author thought that being a licenced investigator means she has the freedom to use such license to her own advantage.

Clearly, the friends of her employers at GCHQ and NSA thought that they were above the law. If you’re among those people who doubt that our government is also engaging in illegal surveillance, then I can only say little to convince you. I have every reason to believe that the intelligence agencies of the Australian Government are actually breaking the law even if they won’t try.

I can only hope that Mendes, the author, did not engage in some other illegal activities. Most private investigators I know are doing their best to act lawfully during difficult situations where complex legal issues are involved. Most of them will surely be happy to know that a private investigator that’s willing to break the law has already left the industry. But unlike private investigators, government agencies usually have more access to resources that will allow them to manage compliance accurately, which is why their failure to do so is a serious problem.

I truly believe that the biggest enemy of knowledge isn’t ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge. The author might probably not aware that people, in general, are not good at recognising faces, however, a well-experienced investigator is fully aware of this.

In the book, the author seems to have an opinion that the man she was observing during her surveillance was the insurance beneficiary of the subject. She followed him for several days and found out later on that she was actually following the wrong person. In this case, the proper investigative protocol is to provide the investigating manager with photos of the person so she can personally identify the person.

According to the claims officer, the evidence she has provided would have brought the case “out of water”, which is a surprise that Mendes is not well aware of. She also narrated another example in the book about a nurse whose every move she documented in a detailed report, including when she gave a kiss and other gestures.

It’s pretty clear that the only person in Australia who might be responsible for documenting an individual’s every move is her employer, which to me, was the Australian Government. Even without a warrant, the government will access your metadata and will share this with the other eyes of the government. This will facilitate backdoor through apps and will monitor your every move from the thousands of CCTV cameras all over the country while its allies will establish secret relationships with large tech companies.

They would go as far as taping fibre optic lines, which are responsible for carrying Internet traffic just to harvest your data. Yet, despite doing all these, they are the worst when it comes to managing confidential information.

If what Fairfax has reported is correct, then it should be clear that ABC is interfering with the government. So, will their final step of establishing a total surveillance state is to secure a monopoly of investigative power so they will have access to the personal data of a private citizen? Will the ABC serve as the propaganda tool that the government is trying to establish? I am not saying this because I hate ABC. In fact, I rely on the ABC for news, but they have certainly done something wrong here.

First, the author is suggesting that her surveillance of an insurance claimant is a total waste, which is an indication that she feels much of her work is just a waste. Then she seems to have changed her mind and suggested that the type of surveillance that will document every person’s move is somewhat intrusive.

So basically, what she’s trying to say is that being intrusive is a waste?

For me, waste refers to a civil right that can’t be enforced. A contract would be deemed useless if one can’t enforce rights into one’s gains in a given agreement. Are we going to forgive our debtors of what they owe us just because we have offended them for trying to recover such debt? What about the insurers? Can they not enforce their rights due to their size?

Like any profession, there are cases where rogue operators end up doing something wrong. However, it’s not right to suggest that claimants who are aware of the surveillance are getting subjected to a vicious cycle of enhanced surveillance and paranoia. This just makes no sense to me. I just don’t understand why anyone would deliberately put a person who is surveillance aware under another surveillance? If the person is fully aware that he’s being observed, then understandably, he wouldn’t do something that could risk his insurance claims.

If the subject is aware of the surveillance, the proper way to address this is to either stop the surveillance altogether and consider using various operatives in order to minimise any suspicion that could jeopardise the operation. Or perhaps, she can choose to recommence her surveillance after several weeks or months to see if the subject is indeed aware or not. Any experienced private investigator knows that you can’t benefit from monitoring a subject who is surveillance-aware.

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