A stakeout is the process of monitoring a location, person, or group of persons. The process is usually done to monitor criminals and to catch them doing something illegal or illicit. The stakeout is a law enforcement technique that must be done properly and with the applicable permissions, and the process may be done through several means, including video surveillance, photography, computer surveillance, or simply visual observation. Many critics of the practice of the stakeout note that it can be construed as a violation of privacy, and others note its lack of cost-effectiveness.
Before other technologies were commonly used, a stakeout involved a person or team of people being physically on-site and concealed to view another party's activities from a safe distance. The people on the stakeout would observe patterns and behaviors, often for several days, weeks, or months at a time, in order to coordinate an appropriate response to the illegal or illicit activity. As new technologies entered the scene, photographers might take photos of the activity; video cameras could film a site or a person; audio equipment could be set up to listen in on the activities; and eventually, computers could monitor data being transferred into and out of a location.
All these practices have raised privacy concerns in many regions throughout the world, and different countries have different laws regarding the stakeout and other methods of surveillance. With the advent of social media, the laws and regulations regarding surveillance and stakeouts has been further complicated, and many countries still do not have adequate laws and regulations concerning such surveillance. In most cases, law enforcement officers need to obtain the proper clearances from superiors to coordinate and execute a stakeout, and the practices involved in the process must be done correctly in order to avoid violations of the regional laws.
Technology has had a significant impact on how surveillance and stakeouts are carried out. Some new technologies have even made it unnecessary to have people on-site to monitor activities. This makes the practice more efficient, safer, and more cost-effective, though using technology for surveillance has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, as well as supporters and adversaries. Computers, cameras, audio equipment, and so on can now be set up ahead of time to monitor criminal activity, record it, and send it to the appropriate monitors. Whether the evidence is admissible in court will depend on several factors, including the methods used to acquire the information.