Contextual events like the #MeToo movement and other public allegations of employee misconduct have many companies throughout the nation reevaluating their investigative needs when it comes to internal conflicts. Among those companies are powerhouses like Microsoft. On May 10, 2019, Satya Nadella, the Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft, announced new efforts to increase the size of its internal investigation teams in order to better address reports of employee misconduct and harassment.
Nadella reportedly said in a company-wide announcement, “I want people to point out my flaws.” This transparent statement of accountability is symptomatic of an accountable business culture, in which employees at all levels of involvement know there is a right way and a wrong way to handle an internal investigation. The head of Microsoft’s HR department, Kathleen Hogan, confirmed to Quartz that this initiative will focus on five areas of the company’s internal operations, including behavior, manager expectations, investigations, accountability, and data transparency. The team is growing from a 7-person team to a total of 23 people, with senior leadership involved in making instrumental changes in weekly meetings, with the caveat that this level of change “does take time.”
The expansion of Microsoft’s investigative team will ensure internal issues, such as sexual harassment allegations, and issues surrounding theft and fraud, will be examined in a more thorough, comprehensive manner. Any action on the part of management at the conclusion of these investigations will be the result of a more diverse set of eyes performing their due diligence. This will reduce the company’s total litigation costs that may result from a wrongful termination lawsuit based on a faulty investigation, as well as bolster the quality of a case when every step of an investigation is given the time and dedication it deserves.
For smaller companies, especially small businesses with fewer than 500 employees, the total cost to hire a fully equipped, comprehensive team of investigators may be more than they can handle. Microsoft, after all, generates billions of dollars in revenue every year, and has the financial capability to set these investigative measures in motion. So where does that leave smaller businesses?
While it can cost a company like Microsoft millions per year for a team dedicated solely to the supervision and investigation of internal issues, the cost to smaller businesses can remain in the tens of thousands when they seek the consultation of an external investigator, like a private detective, or another type of independent investigator. Having teams of professionals dedicated to a company’s internal crises may increase the quality of every investigation, but private investigators bring something invaluable to the table: unimpeachable integrity and objectivity.
After all, an internal team of investigators is still internal. Despite the quality of any investigation within a company, the respondent to any legal action can claim the business or corporation was not objective in their investigation, because the investigators had a stake in the outcome of the investigation as employees of that business. A private investigator’s independence and autonomy means their only loyalty is to the truth, and their findings will face a higher threshold of scrutiny in a court of law. Private investigators also make great witnesses, who can state in-person how their investigative methods lead them to their conclusion and assure the court that all avenues were explored when preparing their findings.
However, some companies learn too late that it’s prudent to hire a private investigator prior to the onset of a corporate crisis. An internal investigation can spin out of control fast, and the integrity of the case can be compromised. Companies bring in internal investigators after an incident has been reported, or long after attempts to resolve the issue internally have been exhausted. In order to minimize costs to the company due to factors such risk oversight, poor business practices, and inefficient human resource operations, businesses should have an independent specialist like a private investigator evaluate a company’s preparedness for a range of common corporate crises.
If you have a corporate crisis and need solutions, Lauth Investigations International is the private investigation firm for you. Call 317-951-1100 today, or visit our services page for more information.
CCTV Cameras in some major US cities are capturing private citizens’ faces in real-time.
Surveillance capitalism in the United States has been steadily evolving in the United States over the last ten years. Since the invention of social media and the rise of ubiquitous outdoor CCTV surveillance systems in major cities, private individuals are becoming more and more visible to anyone who knows where to look, and how to access the images. Now, the announcement that certain American cities are ostensibly planning to install real-time facial recognition software for their external CCTV systems has civil liberty groups in a uproar.
The “authoritarian potential,” as it was denoted in a recent article by WIRED, began in China, with many activist groups condemning the country’s use of facial recognition software to flag suspects who are caught on the cities’ external candid cameras. However, according to WIRED, Georgetown researchers released a report last week that cities like Chicago and Detroit have purchased this software for their CCTV surveillance systems. In addition to the fact that both cities deny current use of this software, there is no federal or state law that would prevent them from doing so.
The technology is innocuous enough. It’s the same technology that allows personal smart devices like iPhones, desktops, and laptops to have security protocol that prevents someone who is not the user from accessing the device. Image recognition software has been used by law enforcement for years to catch criminals, but experts are saying this level of sophistication in technology can create a troubling landscape in which a private individual’s anonymity in public spaces is threatened—experts like Evan Selinger, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, “Historically, we haven’t had to regulate privacy in public because it’s been too expensive for any entity to track our whereabouts.” With the rise of a surveillance capitalism, those days are over.
For civil liberty groups, the premise of this software being used to catch criminals does little to overshadow the specter of Big Brother hanging over them. Experts and activists alike call into question the accuracy of the software, and what effect any inaccuracies will have on persons of color and other private, non-suspect individuals who are minding their own business in a public square. They’ve also called attention to the use of such real-time facial recognition systems on police work, saying technological biases in biometric surveillance will lead to flawed investigations, and resources wasted on faulty leads generated by the systems. In one instance, actor Woody Harrelson’s image was uploaded into the system with the intention of identifying potential suspects who resemble him.
It is difficult to ignore the potential good a system like this could do in cases of missing persons or child abduction. CCTV footage is constantly being utilized by law enforcement to recreate a person’s movements in order to find answers—just recently, CCTV footage was used by Houston law enforcement to investigate the claims of a missing 4-year-old’s stepfather, who says she was kidnapped by two men after he was ambushed on the side of the road. He’s now being held on a $45,000 bond after the CCTV footage outside their Houston apartment directly contradicted his story.
Despite the concerns surrounding this evolving real-time facial recognition technology, one thing is certain: Legislature at all levels of government must have an eye on this technology and its capabilities, bearing in mind that misappropriation could have disastrous consequences to private citizens who are innocent of any wrongdoing. Without rules or regulations to dictate how the technology should be used, cities in the United States could become vulnerable to what has been denoted as a potentially authoritarian practice, eroding our privacy, and threatening our liberty.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2010, there were over 34,7000 licensed private investigators operating throughout the United States. The Bureau projects by 2020, the figure will increase twenty percent—resulting in almost 42,000 PIs. Though they may be great in number, you may never spot one, because private investigators have a unique set of skills allowing them to blend in with all walks of society.
When the average person thinks of a private investigator, it often evokes a handful of stereotyped images. Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous private investigators in the global lexicon—even if he is fictional. In the United States, the film noire genre gave average citizens a staple look for PIs; long, tan trench coats, matching fedora hats, toting cameras with obnoxiously long lenses. More contemporary private sleuths are often thought of as being clad in all black and wearing dark sunglasses. Because these images have permeated American culture, a private investigator fitting any of these descriptions can instantly have their covers blown. With a surge in surveillance culture and the ubiquity of technology and social media, private investigators in the 21st century must modify their investigative methods to adapt to a world where everyone is watching.
Close, But Not Too Close
Even in a world where individuals often have their eyes glued to a screen, it is easier than ever for a private investigator to have their cover blown while in the field. Rise in the saturation of crime coverage in both local and national media has citizens paying attention to their surroundings more than ever, especially when walking to and from their vehicles, and when developing a home security system. Despite concerns about the proverbial “Big Brother,” invading human privacy, the U.S. began to appreciate surveillance technology as a nation after a CCTV camera captured the perpetrators behind the Boston Marathon bombing in the summer of 2013. Law enforcement investigating the tragedy were able to identify Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a crowd of thousands, tracking every move they made until the fateful moment when they planted the two homemade pressure-cooker bombs killing three people and injuring hundreds more.
In 2018, the nation saw a rise in law enforcement agencies utilizing drones in their investigations, leading to a new wave of outrage and concern over the violation of privacy and spying. As of December 6th, over 900 law enforcement agencies were reported to use drones in their casework. This heightened awareness in the American population has forced private investigators to redefine their standards for proximity to a subject. Of course, a PI must be close enough to properly observe the subject, and despite their benefits, long camera lenses outside of large events inundated with press can just as likely be the aspect that blows a private investigator’s cover. Being too close to a subject can provoke them to confront the investigator and compromise the entire investigation. This obliterates future opportunities for surveillance and collection of evidence, as the subject will be on high-alert.
Do Your Homework
Prior to a stake-out or any form of field surveillance, private investigators must conduct extensive research about the area in order to move fluidly and avoid detection. Study of local businesses and restaurants can inform a private investigator what the public will be doing in the area, and increase their chances of successfully blending in with a crowd. In order to keep a low profile, PIs must place themselves in the mindset of a local. Places like coffee shops, restaurants, or shopping malls can be ideal places for surveillance, as there are built-in explanations for a person sitting or milling about without purpose for extended periods of time. In situations where this is not the case, it’s important for the investigator to have a method for making themselves appear occupied to cover their presence in an area. Luckily, a person staring at their phone for large blocks of time will raise no alarms with the subject or anyone else. Books, laptops, or accompaniment by an associate for “lunch” are also tried-and-true covers. Many private investigation periodicals recommend conducting as much online research as possible prior to surveillance in order to limit exposure. This means searching public databases, combing news articles, and scraping social media to arm oneself with as much information as possible.
Blending in is the name of the game when you’re a private investigator.
As mentioned above, everyday citizens are more hypervigilant than ever. Subjects with a history in the criminal justice system or with law enforcement will be even more so. As such, the concept of tailing a subject is becoming less effective, resulting in the private investigator “getting made” by their target. Subjects will recognize the same face after multiple sightings, even if it is in a crowd, and strange vehicles parked in the same location for hours at a time are sure to draw suspicion. This is where thorough research with a private investigator’s client can become invaluable. Reconnaissance at the hands of a client can provide the investigator with information allowing them to be more inconspicuous when following a subject from location to location. For example, a spouse suspicious of infidelity can provide the private investigator with their spouse’s daily schedule—what time they wake up, their morning routine, addresses for their employment, frequent lunch locations, extra-curricular activities, the addresses of friends’ homes, the list goes on and on.
Even the most catlike of private investigators will have their covers blown from time to time. That’s why it’s imperative to have a bulletproof cover story. If they’ve done their research, private investigators can be ready with a plausible reason for being in the area, such as house-hunting, shopping, or just being plain lost and in need of direction. These quick explanations will cause a subject to lower their guard and reconsider their suspicion. Just as is the case with any deception, too many details pierce the veil. Being caught with surveillance equipment like cameras or microphones will also require explanation, but in a culture saturated with technology, this can also be easily explained. Camera drawing too much attention? Not if you’re a professional photographer on assignment. Microphone too conspicuous? It’s no longer a stretch to believe the average citizen is a fledgling podcaster or filmmaker recording “foley” or “walla” noise for their project.
As is the case with many professions, media and culture have defined the role of private investigator as one for a man, which often leaves women out of the conversation. However, it could be argued female private investigators have a much better chance of remaining undetected in surveillance. While social code continues to grow and develop, women are often socialized to diminish themselves—to listen, not speak. Follow instead of lead. Men are socialized to be forward and confident in the interest of being some kind of alpha, while women are known to be better at reading a room, picking up on behavioral cues that might inform their investigation, and their perceived gentility improves their chances of a subject or witness trusting and opening up to them. These aspects of our society are the same ones preventing citizens from suspending disbelief when a woman is accused of a violent crime. A woman would never do that. This allows a female private investigator to conduct field surveillance with more freedom.
Technology has spiked over the last 25 years at astronomical proportions, and our population’s socialization has changed dramatically since the invention of social media. While this may have hampered private investigators in their work, the proper tools, flexible strategies, and an analytical mind can get the job done. Whatever a private investigator’s method for remaining inconspicuous in the field, there is no doubt that as society changes, so must their methodology.
Surveillance capitalism has multiplied the number of eyes on us at all times. Ubiquity of security cameras, traffic cameras, and cell phones with cameras have made it possible for law enforcement to track a suspect’s movements for entire city blocks. And that’s not counting the omnipresent eye of social media, where photo and geo tags can assist law enforcement and private investigators with locating suspects, witnesses, and collect information about a location without having to leave the comfort of their offices in what is now called a “geosocial investigation.”
Before the age of geo-data on social media, employees who called off work on Friday to enjoy a three-day weekend in Atlantic City had no fears of being discovered on Monday by a nosy employer who checked their social media. When social media was in its formative years, a private investigator would be lucky to be scraping the social media of a subject who was indiscriminate about what they chose to post on their Myspace page. Nowadays, employees have to be more cautious regarding posts about their out-of-work activities than ever, with many employees maintaining two Facebook pages—a work Facebook populated by posts that would not offend the most fastidious human resource employee, and a personal Facebook where employees reveal themselves, warts and all, with no regard for who might see the pages. Now, the new reality of surveillance capitalism has changed the world of third-party investigations forever with the assistance of geosocial investigations.
Geosocial investigations are a subset of social media investigations, where the focus of the research centers around a place, rather than a single individual. After all, if you fraudulently submit an FMLA claim that prevents you from working, you’d be very careful not to post any pictures of yourself enjoying vigorous activities, like yard work or hiking. However, if you’re in a group of individuals—all with smartphones and social media profiles of their own—it’s nearly impossible to prevent all pictures of yourself from seeing the light of the internet. This newfound culture of hypervigilance and surveillance may sound like it’s harder for law enforcement and private investigators to squeeze blood from the stone of social media, but where individuals might be protective of their own information online, their friends and relatives may not.
Deriving information on a subject from the social media profiles of their friends and family is a major tenant of geosocial investigations. Exposure online is not limited to pictures. Social media widgets that allow users to check in at specific locations, or add geotags to the photos they post, are also exposing malingering employees during internal investigations. Law enforcement can use this technology to search for social media posts geotagged at the time of an auto-accident in order to locate witnesses. By the same token, they can use it to identify people who are posting in restricted areas where civilians are not allowed. The effect of this technology allows a private investigator to “crowdsource” the information, saving themselves hours of tracking down witnesses and interviewing them.
Geo-social investigations are just one consequence of the world’s newfound surveillance capitalism. As the technology continues to mature and become more sophisticated, social media will continue to expose criminals and malingerers. Employers will see a rise in the exposure of employees abusing FMLA claims. Former employees violating non-compete agreements will be exposed before they have a chance to get a new business venture off the ground. Law enforcement and private investigators will be able to crowdsource investigations with the use of geo-social data.
Carie McMichael is the Media and Communications Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. For more information please visit our website.
In the first decades of the 21st century, we have witnessed advances in technology unprecedented in human history. It was once costly and cumbersome to rely on technology to work for you. The reality today is astonishingly different. To view this article, you likely performed a Google search (or whatever your search engine of choice) and clicked through several links to get here. Advances in technology have made it possible for the search engine to collect the data you spread through the internet and use data to determine what kind of advertising you’ll see in the side banners of the websites you visit. For many in America, our phones and our cameras are the same device. Clunky security systems are a thing of the past, and spy cameras can be made as small as a button. This new reality has a name: surveillance capitalism.
There was a time in the United States where changing your identity was as simple as grabbing what you can carry, hopping a train or hitchhiking to a new location, and introducing yourself to others under a different name. Now, in the world of surveillance capitalism, almost every piece of data you put out in the world, either online or on an official form, will likely be entered into a database where you can be tracked by anyone with the proper clearance. At Lauth Investigations International, we use databases like these every day to perform skip traces, asset searches, and background checks. And then there’s the omnipresent threat of “Big Brother,” a moniker often attributed today to the government agencies, law enforcement, and other surveillance platforms who are constantly watching us on what can only be imagined as an IMAX display of viewing screens. Not to mention the entities that might be surveying us and our information in a manner not exactly above reproach, such as Google, Facebook, and every demonym of foreign hackers who see America’s obsession with its surveillance culture as its Achilles heel.
It’s not all doom and gloom, of course. Humans in America and abroad have reaped the top-tier benefits of surveillance capitalism, such as using the “Find My iPhone” to locate someone who has been reported missing. In the recent high-profile case of a missing young woman from Brooklyn, Iowa, Mollie Tibbetts, law enforcement were able to use data collected by Mollie’s Fitbit to piece together her last hours. This information would eventually lead investigators to the man who is now charged with her first-degree murder. Just this past week, an American couple was saved in Bali after a scooter accident left them both without a way to call local authorities for help. Mikey Lythcott, 36, was able to turn on the roaming data on his cell phone, and with a single bar of service, managed to pen a desperate call for help to his Facebook friends. The United States Consulate in Bali was contacted, and help was sent to the couple’s location. Knowing how well technology can work for us makes it that much more frustrating when we feel it has violated our privacy, such as the aforementioned data-mining that helps target you for specific advertisements.
In addition to impacting the way Americans live their lives, surveillance capitalism has already become a constipator for many well-established areas of the economy, such as journalism, transportation, and—in a fascinating irony—private investigations. While surveillance capitalism has certainly had a significant impact on American culture, there are many who have a misunderstanding of its omniscient power. In a recent article titled, “A Private Investigator on Living in a Surveillance Culture,” a private investigator named Judith Coburn, shared an anecdote where a client completely underestimated the available technology:
“Two lawyers working on a death-penalty appeal once came to see me about working on their case. There had been a murder at a gas station in Oakland 10 years earlier. Police reports from the time indicated that there was a notorious “trap house” where crack addicts were squatting across from the gas station. The lawyers wanted me to find and interview some of those addicts to discover whether they’d seen anything that night. It would be a quick job, they assured me. (Translation: they would pay me chump change.) I could just find them on the Internet. I thought they were kidding. Crack addicts aren’t exactly known for their Internet presence.”
Frustrations like these are rampant in investigation firms across the country, but the advancements in technology do not prevent the use of tried-and-true analog methods, such as old-fashioned tailing surveillance, or telephone ruses without the use of any fancy phone surveillance tech.
The concept of the “right to be forgotten” was forged in the European Union, with individuals voicing their concerns about their inability to “determine the development of their life in an autonomous way, without being perpetually or periodically stigmatized as a consequence of a specific action performed in the past.” Given the surveillance tech available to citizens, both private and public, it sounds like an unattainable status for anyone who uses social media, the internet, or walks by a security camera on their way to work every day.
In February, 2018, NPR published an article titled, “Google Has Received 650,000 ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ Requests Since 2014,” detailing the mountain of requests fielded by the multi-national technology company to remove certain URLs from their search results on the condition the content is “inadequate, irrelevant or excessive in relation to the purposes of the processing.” The article goes on to say this means it is up to the discretion of a private company to determine what is in the best interests of the people who use their services, which is a tall-order in a capitalist society. Whether the policy proposed in the EU will ever be universally enforced—both in Europe and around the world—education regarding this newfound culture in which we find ourselves is paramount to protecting yourself and your loved ones from the evils of surveillance capitalism.
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, a private investigation firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana–delivering proactive and diligent solutions for over 30 years. For more information, please visit our website.