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The pros and cons of DIY surveillance

by Josef Kafka

Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to buy the type of devices that are often used for surveillance. Here is a quick guide to some popular gadgets, plus some reasons for and against using them. 

GPS trackers

There is a huge range of tracking devices available to buy online, and there’s no doubt these little gadgets can be great for helping to protect your assets, such as your car, commercial vehicle, tractor or speedboat. Trackers are also used to keep tabs on people and pets. Easy to set up, trackers can be monitored from any device with an internet connection, including your mobile phone, as long as the GPS function hasn’t been turned off. Trackers can be placed in a bag, to follow an elderly relative with dementia,or a young child, but hiding one on a person without them knowing is not so straightforward. Battery life of trackers also varies and some need frequent recharging.

Pro: easy to use

Con: price, variable battery life, and range

Spy software for monitoring mobile phones and tablets

Thanks to recent phone hacking scandals in the UK, you might think hacking into someone's phone is breaking the law, but there are many grey areas. Surreptitiously listening in on someone’s private phone call and then publishing or broadcasting details of the conversation for commercial gain, is illegal, but simply listening in may not be. This is where products such as Flexispy come in – software that can be installed on a mobile phone or tablet that is then monitored from a control centre, where all logs and reports can be viewed. 

As well as secretly listening in to calls on the targeted device, you can record calls, monitor chat messages on popular sites, and more. Apart from possible compatibility issues, installing this kind of software can be tricky. This is also a fairly expensive option, so you need to ask yourself if it is really justified – and not just because of the money!

Pro: sophisticated and effective

Con: compatibility issues, expensive


Drones are widely used for all kinds of surveillance. and their commercial use (for delivering goods, checking installations at height, search and rescue operations, surveys, and aerial photography) is set to grow rapidly. The intelligence agencies and military have been using drones for a number of years, to gather information, locate and track targets and, in some cases, eliminate them. Drones have also been used by private investigators to gather photographic evidence, although more so in the US than in the UK. 

In this country, anyone can buy a drone online and fly it without a special licence, but there are calls for stricter controls. Recently, a House of Lords committee called for a register of drone owners and tighter regulation on their use (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-31735662). The private use of drones is more likely to be for recreational purposes than spying on a partner suspected of infidelity or checking on employees in the field. In any case, there are easier – and far cheaper – ways of carrying out this kind of surveillance.

Pro: versatile

Con: expensive

Physical surveillance

Physical surveillance is a tried and tested, time-honoured method that involves no hi-tech gadgets at all and is still one of the most effective ways of tracking someone’s movements. It sounds simple but patience, vigilance, and experience are required to do the job, while remaining unobserved. This is one area where it can be tempting to try some DIY surveillance, but the chances of being detected are high, and the consequences could be serious. Before you go ahead with any of the above, remember to be sure you’re not doing anything illegal. Hiring a professional investigator, who operates within the law, may just be the smarter option.

Pro: simple and low-tech

Con: risk of detection

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