GPS Tracking, Is It Legal For Surveillance?

The use of GPS tracking technology to conduct surveillance by law enforcement agencies and private citizens has been underway for many years. Private investigators have used the technology to discover cheating spouses, misuse of business equipment, insurance fraud, child custody violations and other location related issues. Many privacy advocates have screamed foul about the perceived loss of privacy through the use of this technology. Surveillance activities may or may not be legal depending on the location and type of device.

Recently the 7th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals ruled that placing a GPS tracker on a vehicle was lawful and did not require a warrant. The federal government argued successfully that placing a device on a vehicle does not violate the 4th Amendment and is not an unreasonable search of the vehicle. The vehicle was not entered and thus was not searched. It means that all that is needed for a law enforcement or government agency to place a GPS tracking device on a vehicle is reasonable probable cause. However when it comes to a private citizens placing a GPS tracking device on a vehicle or an individual it is a much more complex issue. Many States have passed laws that restrict the use of this technology to conduct surveillance unless the device is used on a vehicle owned by the person conducting the surveillance. It is strongly recommended that you contact the office of your States Attorney General prior to conducting any GPS tracking of anyone outside your immediate family. Failure to do so could lead to severe legal consequences.

New micro technology allows GPS tracking devices to be hidden in just about any location. This is especially true for the GPS data loggers. These recorders are placed in a vehicle or on a person for a designated period time. The device is then retrieved and downloaded in to a computer. The information then is displayed on a map showing routes traveled, time in route, at rest, speed and direction. This is a great tool to keep track of your newly licensed teen as well as making sure that your business vehicles are not being used for personal use. These GPS trackers are very hard to detect since they are both small and they do not use cell phone communication technology. Basically there are no records beyond the computers hard drive. Again this makes this type of surveillance very hard to both detect and defend against. The negative side of using a GPS data logger is that the information is history rather than in real time.

Real time GPS tracking devices use both GPS and cell phone technology to provide tracking information in real time. Tracking information is updated at designated time intervals to a company that provides the tracking service. As a subscriber you will log into the companies data base and your tracking information will be downloaded to your computer. Recently the GPS tracking devices have become much smaller making it much easier to hide in either a vehicle, piece of equipment or on a person. While it is illegal for cell phone companies to provide information including tracking information about a customer without a warrant the Federal Communications Act apparently does not apply to GPS tracking providers. The bottom line is that if you use a real time GPS tracking device and provider you risk that the records of your surveillance activities will be discovered.

The use of GPS tracking devices for surveillance has led many states to pass laws to protect the privacy of their citizens. Most of these laws have severe penalties attached to them. It is strongly recommended that you do a thorough job of research prior to conducting any form of electronic surveillance. GPS tracking technology is a great tool for managing both people and resources when it is legally and properly used.


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