Private Investigators Can Go to Jail if They Don’t Get Their Licenses
Missourinet has the scoop on the recently installed requirements for licensure of private investigators in Missouri. I remember when the efforts to license that profession got going. I owned a firm that did a lot of process serving in the 1990s, and I attended some industry meetings at which the subject of licensing was discussed. (To be clear, I was never a private eye — not that there is anything wrong with being a private eye.)
All the standard justifications for licensing were used: Higher standards would be good for the industry, would lead to increased public respect, would bring more profits for current practitioners, etc. In most cases, for most industries, those reasons are totally bogus. In the case of private investigators, however, I can see some merit in licensure.
The lifeline of the private investigation industry is access to information. In the Internet age, information is all around us, but some of it is still restricted. Consider driver licensing or credit bureau information. Both of them are imperative to the investigation industry; they contain obvious key information needed for finding people, etc. If you allow some people access to that information, I can understand that you would want to know who has access to it and who is using it, in case they start to abuse it. It is really just a modern technology version of the logic Milton Friedman used to support registration of taxicabs.
I can understand the arguments some readers might make, that private investigators should not be able to access information like that in the first place, license or no license. So why not just prevent access altogether and get rid of licensing rules at the same time? I can agree with that in part, but I don’t like the implicit assumptions that only agents of the government (including lawyers, as members of the bar) get to have access to certain information. Obviously, you can’t be giving out that information to everyone, either, so I admit I don’t quite know where to draw the line.
In reading the rules of private investigator licensing in Missouri, they appear to have left out the worst excesses of licensing. They don’t appear to have placed any limit on the number of licenses, or instituted any extreme education or experience requirements. However, that same lack of explicit guidelines might allow the board too much discretion in rapidly approving ex–law enforcement officials (who, for obvious reasons, make up the bulk of the labor pool in this field), while rejecting applicants without law enforcement backgrounds. I hope that does not happen. Those are decisions that clients and markets should make.
The fees for the application process are high, which is probably intentional. Not high as in law school high, but still high. Often, licensing rules are designed to help the current practitioners by reducing part-time competition. A $500 application fee might not deter anyone who wants to do the job full-time, as a career, but it may well be high enough to prevent someone from applying who is looking to do it part-time. The fact that the fee is only $50 if you want to be an employee of an existing agency tells me the same thing, and I don’t think it is proper for government to be making those decisions.
P.S. — Thanks to Combest for the story link, and our thoughts go out to John on the recent passing of his father.