Client Alert: Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations Reverses its Position on Requiring a PI License When Conducting Computer Forensic Examinations

On June 12, 2010, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) released a statement temporarily reversing its prior position regarding the requirement for persons conducting computer forensic investigations to be licensed under the Illinois Private Detective, Private Alarm, Private Security and Locksmith Act of 2004.

In an October 8, 2009 board meeting of the Illinois Private Detective, Private Alarm, Private Security, Fingerprint Vendor and Locksmith Board, a division of the IDFPR, the board ruled that, "Since the definition of detective states 'manual or electronic means ...' and history is being tracked then computer forensic work would require a private detective license."

The June 12 statement was issued as a response to complaints voiced by unlicensed computer forensic companies that the IDFPR's position requiring all computer forensic professionals to be licensed private investigators put them out of business as they were unqualified to apply for private investigator licensing due to the strict licensing requirements. The licensing requirements currently require applicants to either be former law enforcement officers or to have worked for three years at a licensed private detective agency.

The IDFPR statement says that it, "Recognizes that some persons or firms solely engaged in the practice of computer forensics that do not practice or offer 'traditional' private detective services have not acquired the statutorily required experience to qualify for a license as a private detective. Requiring them to obtain such experience would effectively put them out of business."

As a result, the IDFPR has taken the position that, for now, "The Department will not require such persons or firms to obtain a private detective or private detective agency license to lawfully operate in the State of Illinois until such time as the legislature can consider and pass amendatory language to the Act to address this issue."

The statement was apparently issued to clarify actions taken in the April 2010 meeting of the Private Detective Board. See board minutes here. The minutes of this April meeting were just made public. At that meeting, in response to objections by an unlicensed computer forensic company, the board voted to place a 180 day moratorium on the enforcement of any computer forensic issues so more research can be conducted on the topic. In addition, the board voted to request that the IDFPR research and propose a solution for the licensing and enforcement of the provisions of the act that would consider provisions for licensure of existing professionals and a date by which licensure would be expected.

From the minutes and the statement issued by the IDFPR it appears that, for the present, unlicensed computer forensic professionals can continue to operate without the fear of committing licensing violations. It is also apparent that there is a desire to make sure that such professionals do become licensed under a plan that will allow them to continue to work while they obtain the necessary licensing credentials. It is quite possible that Illinois will join other states, such as Michigan, that have required private investigator licensing, but accept well recognized technology certifications as an alternative to the current requirement of prior law enforcement experience or three years of working at a licensed private investigative firm.

Duff & Phelps has highly qualified and licensed Illinois computer forensic examiners. To learn more about this issue and how it can impact your company and for details about the credentials of our licensed examiners, please contact Peggy Daley, managing director and co-leader of our Global Electronic Discovery and Investigations practice, at +1 312 697 4580.

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