Stalking or Surveillance?

A World of Difference Between the Two


A girl files a stalking petition in court. According to her, there’s a man who follows her around and sits each night in his car for hours, outside her house, with night vision gear monitoring her activity. She claims it to be an invasion of her privacy and wants him to be penalized. The defendant turns out to be a private investigator hired by her ex-boyfriend. He flashes his professional license in court to convey that he is exempted from the stalking order. Thus, what is stalking for the plaintiff becomes surveillance for the defendant, although there will be difference between different countries.

Is this reason enough to let the defendant go? Does this mean that a private investigator has a free reign to pry into others matters only because he has a professional license? This is where the common man tends to mix up surveillance and stalking. There is a very fine line between surveillance and stalking knowing where to draw the line will make all the difference.

Surveillance vs Stalking 

Surveillance is mostly taken up by private investigators. Indeed it is a very important tool of private investigators. It is stalking on behalf of a client.

However, it is generally considered legal in most countires. This is so long as it is conducted within the laws of any given location. For example the surveillance should be conducted in a way that respects a target’s legal right to a reasonable expectation of privacy, or surveillance should not cross over into illegal activities such as breaking into someone’s house.

Thus, a private investigator in many countries is legally entitled to gather information not available in public records. S/he can do so by approaching the person in question directly or in a covert manner such as following the person around, or keeping a personal vigil. The information collected is often produced as evidence in court.

Stalking is considered illegal and reflects a criminal intent. It is often also regarded as an activity with a sociopathic nature.

A Matter of Intent

The intent is the major point of distinction between the two. The main objective of surveillance is to collect legitimate investigative evidence. This evidence is used to strengthen a case in court.  In case of stalking, the objective of collecting information is to control or intimidate the person. The stalker might use the information to force the victim to give in to his wishes and demands.

The laws applicable in different locations also determine the legality of surveillance often pinpointing where surveillance becomes stalking. In situations like the one mentioned at the start, the country laws will determine whether it is stalking or surveillance based on the intent. If it is used only to collect information, it can be regarded as surveillance. However, if it threatens the safety of a victim or makes them feel unreasonably safe, it becomes stalking whether it is done by a licensed professional or not.

Surveillance Is Not Stalking

  • When there is a legitimate motive
  • When it does not make the person feel unreasonably safe

If you want to gather information about a particular person, you should hire a private investigator.

Indonesia Private Investigation Agency (IPIA) and our sister agency Bali Eye Private Investigation Agency (BEPIA) are fully registered agencies offering investigation services to the private and business sectors throughout Indonesia and South East Asia.


About the Author

IPIA's Director of Investigations is an Indonesian national with a Diploma in PI work (with distinction) from the UK and an Australian Government accredited Certificate in Investigative Services. She has worked on over 400 cases for private and business clients.