One common use of Agents provocateurs is to investigate consensual or "victimless" crimes; since each participant in such crimes are willing participants, it is often difficult for the authorities to discover such crimes without the use of undercover agents.
Agents provocateurs are also used against political opponents. Here, it has been documented that provocateurs deliberately carry out or seek to incite counter-productive or ineffective acts, in order to foster public disdain for the group and provide a pretext for aggression against the group; and to worsen the punishments its members are liable for (see Red-baiting).
Historically, Agents provocateurs activities have been one operational tactic of labor spies who may also be hired to infiltrate, monitor, disrupt, or subvert union activities.
The activities of agents provocateurs pose a number of ethical and legal issues. Within common law jurisdictions, the law of entrapment seeks to discern whether the provocateur's target intended to commit the crime he participated in with the provocateur, or whether the suggestion to commit the crime began with the provocateur. It is also debatable whether the institutionalized deception that the use of agents provocateurs implies is in fact more harmful to the social order than the various consensual offenses typically investigated by provocateurs.
New York City Police officers have been accused of acting as agents provocateurs during protests against the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City.
In various European countries, Agent Provocateur is an official legal term for a person who approaches other people with a bribe offer, with consent of the police. It has proved fairly effective in combating corruption especially in former Eastern Bloc European countries.
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