The Legal Future of GPS Tracking: There’s No Escaping It

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As GPS technology develops and its uses become more numerous and diverse, those who own mobile devices capable of being electronically monitored or GPS tracking equipment will be increasingly affected by it on a daily basis. One arena in which the use of GPS tracking has exploded in recent years is in the courts and in dealing with the law.

The use of GPS technology to find and follow criminals is no longer new. Suspects and convicted high risk offenders released from prison are fitted with ankle bracelets, their whereabouts monitored to ensure they’re nowhere near off-limits zones. More recently, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other law teams have tracked the coming and going of drug dealers using GPS from cell phones, no warrant necessary; and, creating precedence, court justices have deemed the findings admissible in court. When investigating murder cases, police have been known to submit the GPS data from an individual’s cell phone locations during the time(s) of the victim’s killing as part of reasonable evidence of the suspect’s involvement–which brings up two very good points made by judges in defense of the practice. 

First, most of today’s owners are aware of exactly what they’re getting when they buy that mobile device. The technology is so prevalent that almost everyone knows his or her device’s location data is being recorded wherever it goes and how to enable (or disable) the tracking capability. People do so, knowing that their privacy might be invaded if they don’t turn off the GPS tracking feature, and by leaving it on cannot assume that their constitutional right to privacy applies if that data is brought against them in court. Second, when individuals use and are tracked by their own GPS monitored technology while engaging in illegal activity, it stands to reason that that same data can be used to convict them.

In civil cases, spouses have increasingly used location information recorded from GPS tracking devices of both mobile phones and cars as evidence of adultery in divorce court.Various states view adultery as legitimate legal grounds for divorce and consider the GPS data to be admissible in court–so long as the GPS technology was installed in an item owned jointly by both spouses (for instance, a car).

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Claire Richards

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