It is common knowledge that a multitude of public and non-public records, data and information are available in the digital world regarding individuals and businesses. There is also no doubt that technology has enabled aggregation of this information from multiple sources.
The advent of the information age has greatly increased the capability of fact finders to quickly, efficiently and cost effectively conduct or supplement a variety of investigations for law firms, employers and consumers. Not so long ago, "burning shoe leather," the telephone and "snail mail" were the only means of performing many types of inquiries that are today routinely handled by computer. This is good for the client as investigative research through modern electronic means avoids or mitigates the often more costly necessity of field investigation while at the same time permitting the fact gatherer to maintain a lower profile.
Unfortunately, this same technology has also made it much easier for all of us to be victimized by the unscrupulous from all walks of life. One need only open a newspaper or tune in to the evening news to see reports of those who would utilize blatantly unlawful means to access legally protected information such as credit reports, health care data, tax records and the like. In the past, state and federal laws were in some instances nonexistent or otherwise less than clear when it came to permissible access to such information; this is clearly not the case today, however, as the law has in most cases evolved to adequately address such issues.
When engaging the services of an investigative firm, it is important that the client inquire about the company's policies governing the acquisition and use of recognized private information, and in some cases legally protected information. Failure to do so could expose the client to legal liability. Lawyers who unlawfully obtain such information through third parties may also be liable. Moreover, any evidence determined to have been obtained unlawfully will almost certainly be barred from legal proceedings.
Legitimate Use of Non-public, Personally Identifying Information
There are, nevertheless, important and legitimate public policy reasons for lawful, responsible access to public, non-public and proprietary data, as well as personally identifying information. Private sector access to such information enables investigators to provide many valuable services to employers, law firms, law enforcement and consumers in furtherance of the administration of justice. Personal identifiers and other information uniquely associated with individuals is an essential element of these services. It is thus vital that investigators and security professionals retain access to such information.
The necessity of private sector access to such information may be seen in the investigation of fraud, theft and loss prevention and investigation for government, employers, insurance companies and financial institutions, and other organizations. According to the National Council of Investigation & Security Services, $67 billion is lost each year due to fraudulent claims while employee dishonesty and theft costs American businesses over $50 billion a year.
The private sector is also routinely called upon to investigate claims of discrimination, harassment and other forms of workplace misconduct. The EEOC receives tens of thousands of such charges annually resulting in tens of millions of dollars in monetary benefits.
Law firms regularly engage investigators to obtain evidence during or in anticipation of litigation, including identifying and locating parties and witnesses and conducting background investigation. Such inquiry is often crucial to the discovery process, and it often requires access to non-public or otherwise personally identifying information.
Our Consumer Information Privacy Practices
S. K. Nelson & Company believes in and practices the responsible use of consumer information. We conduct investigations in accordance with the Amended Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Financial Services Modernization Act (Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act), and the Driver's Privacy Protection Act. We comply with these and other consumer privacy protection laws not only because they constitute the law of the land, but because we are consumers as well, and these laws help protect all of us.
Our Policies and Practices Regarding the Use of Non-public, Personally Identifying Information
We require law firms and employers to provide a valid business purpose for accessing non-public or proprietary data on consumers.
We do not provide law firms or employers with an individual's personal identifying information unless it is necessary and reasonable given the nature of the engagement.
We do not provide non-public, proprietary, or personally identifying information to consumers under any circumstance.
We do not provide consumers with contact information such as private telephone numbers or home addresses under any circumstance.
No information obtained during an engagement will be shared with unauthorized third parties as specified in California Business and Professions Code §7539(a).