Fancy finding out what an ex-boyfriend is doing these days? Want to know whether your co-worker has really been stealing your ideas, or is just spookily telepathic? You may want to hire a private detective.
In real life private detectives and their sleuthing skills, while perpetually the subject of TV sitcoms and spy thrillers, go far beyond the glamour of Hollywood glitz. The business is a 24-hour a day, seven-days-a-week and 365 days a year run-a-round for detectives, but Pakistan’s first private detective company Fact Finders is determined to provide its services to discerning clients despite the cost.
Fact Finders is a detective company which aims to provide individualised services coupled with full confidentiality to all of its clients. These services purport to go far beyond digging up dirt on people and the company boasts a highly skilled team of professionals who tackle cases ranging from property theft to prospective and, of course, cheating spouses.
The company’s activities do not usually overlap with police operations and are mostly autonomous. “Fact Finders is not an agency working parallel to the police or any other law enforcement agency. We do not infringe upon their domain but we do assist them where required,” says Fact Finders executive Masood. He says that criminal cases are not really part and parcel of the company’s portfolio but that they were often available to gather evidence for a client in order to prove his or her case in court or before the authorities. “Our activities do assist in solidifying our client’s testimony. People come to us when they do not have enough material to resolve an issue before the police or when they want to settle the matter privately,” he says.
When people think of a ‘private security firm,’ the first thing that will come to mind is the extensive use of hi-tech gadgets — ear pieces, pens with micro phones, cameras concealed in buttonholes — the stuff of popular TV shows like “Alias”, or “24”. But these methods are rarely employed by detective agencies like Fact Finders, although the organisation does use generic snooping aids like cell phone cameras. “We use conventional methods,” says Masood. “Our area of work does not require much use of modern technology or devices for collection of information or evidence. It is mostly a paper trail.”
Perhaps this is also because Fact Finders staff say they are careful not to infringe on the legal and constitutional rights of the people who are subject to their investigation. “The information we gather is for our client’s eyes only,” Masood specifies.
But there are very few laws that directly relate to the right to privacy and penalties for infringement of such rights in Pakistan anyway. Perhaps the most relevant legislation is the Pakistan draft law on Data Protection framed on March 11, 2005, which is still being tweaked before it can be officially passed into law. This draft provides a framework to secure digital identity and relates to issues like identity theft. The only other similar legislation includes the Electronic Data Protection Act of 2005 and certain Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) laws. None of these, however, deal specifically with the violation of individual privacy.
Even in an international context, the sleuthing business has often been placed at the fringes of what is deemed ‘legal’ in technical terms. Private detectives are known to often work ‘around’ the authorities in order to get what the client needs. Fact finders, however, claims to generally operate within strictly defined guidelines. “I do not think there is any conflict with the private investigation business and privacy laws. We do not disturb or interrupt the privacy of any person; however, we keep our client informed, point out the wrongdoer’s actions and collect the facts,” says Masood. “We try our best to keep our proceedings absolutely confidential and the required information is provided only to the client. We are also registered with the Government of Pakistan under the required laws.”
Some of Lahore’s police officials seem to have a slightly different take on this business. “It is all well and good to claim that no privacy laws are being broken here, but the fact that someone is conducting surveillance and monitoring a person’s activities for financial gain is in itself a breach of privacy. Investigating on behalf of a ‘client’ is automatically a biased investigation because it assumes that the target is in the wrong. This isn’t like a police investigation where everyone is a fair target until proven guilty. Here the goal is to prove someone guilty,” says SP Cantt Police Naveed Ashraf.
On the other hand, sociologist Sadia Hayat says: “I don’t think there is anything wrong with [private investigations]. I mean, it’s not like the police conduct unbiased investigations, and as long as the record remains sealed I see no conflict of interest. Frankly, I know scores of women who actually would use this service to monitor the activities of their spouses if they weren’t scared of word getting out.”
Fact Finders looks for prospective private investigators through advertisements posted on its website, and the website: http://www.factfinders.com.pk details the company’s vast range of services. “Mostly, we look for people who have worked in the armed forces and police. They are disciplined and well groomed and already know how to collect information and gather evidence,” says Masood, adding: “We also have a clinical psychologist on board who provides counselling sessions to many of our clients during investigations.”
Fact Finders mostly deals with domestic cases including divorce investigations, child location, infidelity cases and pre-marital background checks. “Some of the other cases we tackle involve property disputes and vehicle recovery from banks. Most of our clients are wealthy or come from abroad,” Masood says.
At the end of the day, Fact Finders is a revolutionary idea for Pakistan. The company is unique and the service it offers, even more so. “It is a titillating idea, isn’t it? That you could pay to find out whatever you wanted to know about whomever you wish,” says prospective client Raheela Athar. Athar adds that she might just be giving Fact Finders a call this week in order to ‘dig up some dirt’ on her sister-in-law.
The only problem is her sister-in-law might well be entertaining the exact same thought.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 10th, 2011.