If you follow the news about GPS monitoring in the field of law enforcement, you already know that the Supreme Court recently put a big roadblock in the way of investigators who would like to track suspected criminals. As it turns out, the government views a GPS device secretly attached to a suspect’s vehicle to be a search, just like looking through the suspect’s house. Without a warrant, police can’t track someone via GPS.
Police aren’t the only people interested in finding out just what suspicious activity a person might be up to. Spouses that suspect their husband or wife of sneaking out and fooling around often become interested in the possibility of secretly tracking their cars. Sensing this new opportunity, private investigators all over the country now include GPS tracking in their list of services (for a fee, of course). But how can PIs use GPS to keep an eye on a suspected cheater when the police can’t?
In most cases, the legal loophole is centered in the fact that a couple usually owns a car jointly. If it came down to a court case, a husband could argue that he was tracking his own car, since he had joint ownership of it. If the PI was tracking the car for him, the same defense could apply. The only actual legal decision on this type of situation so far occurred in Minnesota, where the court supported this argument.
Of course, if the client of a PI asked him to track someone else’s car—a suspected mistress, for example—the law is pretty clear. A civilian is not allowed to track another person’s vehicle without ownership.
How are these laws actually being followed in the private investigation industry? It’s hard to tell without doing some creative research. PIs are understandably hesitant to volunteer lots of information to researchers about how they do their job and whether or not they’re breaking the law. Reporters posing as potential clients, however, have gathered some interesting data on what PIs will offer to do with a GPS tracker. If they’re not careful, these less-than-careful investigators could end up in a lot of trouble and find themselves on the wrong side of the law.