The culprits behind the HP fiasco have been mis-identified. Private investigation did not cause the HP problem. The pretexting of phone company employees was done by information brokers. Most people do not make the distinction but there is a clear difference.
Information brokers sell information. Private investigators sell their time and have to use good judgment in the way they spend their time. Information brokers sell units of information like the corner store sells merchandise. Private investigators use imagination, creativity, good human relations skills, determination and long hours of hard work to get information for clients.
The reputation of Private Investigators who still know their real job has been soiled by others who have allowed computers, online databases and greed to woo them off course like the mariners in Homer’s Odyssey were wooed by the sea nymphs. The temptation of easy money from information brokering has converted many private investigators since the mid 1980s. Many of those who have strayed still call themselves private investigators but people who sell pieces of information are “Information Merchants”, not private investigators. Information brokering can be as honorable as any other type of business but like private investigation, if greed is allowed to influence business decisions trouble can follow. If you are a Local Professional Private Investigator there is a difference between what you do and what the information brokers who got indicted for in the HP Fiasco were doing.
Those old enough to remember Rockford know although he was unconventional, he could be trusted. He was such a nice guy he usually could not bear to charge his clients. Many Local Professional PIs still have that problem. Rockford had a buddy downtown in the police department who would check the files and provide information helpful to Rockford in doing his good deeds. Rockford trusted him and he trusted Rockford. That was a wonderful world based on trust and a lot of good was done both in fiction and by real PIs on the streets with buddies downtown. As police departments became computerized, instead of a few local records being available in a file drawer the buddy downtown gained access to huge databases. A small number let greed influence their good judgment and they became information vendors, selling non public information to anyone who would pay. In 1991 about 20 of these “information merchants” and the PIs who were reselling the information were indicted and became felons. They had miss-used and destroyed a valuable investigative tool.
Pretexting has long been another valuable investigative tool. Outlawing the use of pretexting would be impossible without outlawing white lies and all sales promotions. Turning the product of pretexting phone companies into a unit of information to be sold by information merchants and resold by lazy PIs has now destroyed another investigative tool. This will put many information vendors out of business or at least make their lives more stressful but it shouldn’t be confused with what private investigators do. Private investigators are individuals who care about people and avoid getting their clients into trouble. Information vendors are first and foremost money making businesses. Caveat Emptor: Let the buyer beware.
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