The Art of Surveillance: Part I

Private Investigation Techniques I


Surveillance is perhaps the most commonly used technique of any Private Investigator. This is certainly true of Indonesia Private Investigation Agency. Of the 400 or so cases IPIA has worked on about 85% have involved surveillance.

In many respects all the technology around today makes the life of a private investigator quicker and easier. However, IPIA has found that for many of our cases the old fashioned method of surveillance just can not be replaced. Sometimes the only way to find the truth is to pursue it at it’s source.

When is surveillance used?

In basic terms surveillance is used when the client needs to know more about certain activities than can be obtained by more direct means.

The most obvious application is with a suspected cheating partner. This is usually termed as “covert” surveillance as it is done in secret.

IPIA has used surveillance for a range of cases. Another instance where surveillance has been used is in uncovering corrupt practices. We once had a case where we had agents employed in large corporation where there were suspicions that some people were carry out shady deals with suppliers. Our agent’s task was to get close to the inner circle of those suspected and observe what was happening.

Also we have had a few abducted children cases where we have to watch guardian and children activities. In one custody battle IPIA had to verify a claim that the cuildren (aged between 10 and 16) had not been to school for a year. As you will appreciate we got different forms of evidence to support (or deny) this claim, but one of the main activities was active surveillance for a period of a month during school term time.

Surveillance can also be used when all other means of gaining information, intelligence, or evidence has been exhausted or has been to difficult to achieve.

Types of Surveillance

Private investigators usually subdivide surveillance into static and mobile, and overt and covert.


Static surveillance is done from a fixed base, where the agent does not move away. Examples include a parked vehicle, or in a building such as a restaurant.

In the example above where IPIA had underover agents in a company this would be classed as static surveillance.


Mobile surveillance is done by an agent when the target is on the move such as in a car or on foor.


Covert surveillance is the most commonly used form for private investigators. Basically the target should not know that they are under surveillance.


Overt surveillance can simply be in the form of a supervisor walking around checking each person’s work, either in the form of surveillance cameras, as set up in banks and places of high risk. The point in this example is to ensure procedures are being conducted correctly and as a deterrent to a prospective offender.

Indonesia Private Investigation Agency has been asked to conduct overt surveillance by placing hidden cameras in a hotel room. This is something we have not done. It is illegal to do this unless it is done by the authorities with the correct documentation,

Surveillance Difficulties

Carrying out a covert surveillance operation can be very difficult. The main difficulties include:

Surveillance Location

Every location has its own unique challenges.

Airports for example are pretty easy in some respects. It is relatively easy to go around and be inconspicuous. IPIA often uses a man and a woman in airports with one of them having hand luggage with a flight tag on it.

On the other hand following someone out of an airport requires careful planning and setting up. IPIA usually will have 4 to 6 agents in an airport. There is the man and woman on the ground at the arrival gate for example.

You will then need other agents ready to mobilise near all the exit points.

It is usually impossible to predict how targets will leave an airport. They could go by public transport, taxi or be picked up.

If they leave the airport by public transport then the agents at the gate will follow. If they get into a taxi or car then the agents at the gate must radio the agents at the exit points with the vehicle details. These agents will then pick up the target on the road.

Target Awareness

In a few cases a target may be such that they are naturally cautious that they could be a subject of surveillance.

In our case history ‘to catch a thief’ the target had allegedly stolen over 1 million dollars. A professional private investigation agency will bring this knowledge into the planning process. So for example it makes sense to have agents continually switching pole positions. This means more resources are needed, maybe a team of three or four agents.

Surveillance Agent

The agent must be skilled and experienced. IPIA will never send out a new agent on their own. Senior investigators will lead a surveillance with junior agents supporting.

Surveillance investigators should possess a number of skills.

  1. Patient;
  2. Self-discipline;
  3. The ability to maintain concentration for long periods of time;
  4. Adaptable;
  5. Honest;
  6. Trustworthy;
  7. The ability to work without supervision;
  8. Discreet;
  9. The ability to appear as “Mr. or Mrs. Average”, so they do not arouse suspicion by their activity;
  10. The ability to improvise.

Indonesia Private Investigation Agency (IPIA) along with our sister agency  Bali Eye Private Investigation Agency (BEPIA) are fully registered Private Investigation Agencies offering private detective and private investigator 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.