An emotionally distant husband, stepping out mysteriously in the evenings. A delivery truck driver taking hours longer than expected to complete his routes. A teenager coming home glassy-eyed and loopy while her grades fall precipitously.
Each cause for suspicion, for the jilted spouse, skeptical boss or worried parents. With the advent of inexpensive GPS technology, we now possess the tools to track our wayward lovers, employees and children—but how far can we go without violating the privacy of our target and ending up in legal hot water?
Tracking a vehicle you own yourself is usually but not always legal
Phone tracking for public employees is fair game
New technology means law is still unsettled as to what constitutes normal expectations of privacy
Expectation of Privacy
The Supreme Court ruled two weeks ago that law enforcement agencies need a warrant to implant a GPS device on someone’s car. But that ruling doesn’t affect the ability of a private citizen to track someone else’s movements, says Evan Brown, a technology attorney with Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Chicago.
“The private use of tracking devices presents issues that do not arise in the context of the Fourth Amendment analysis for law enforcement,” Brown explains. Instead, judgment about what is acceptable and what is not relies on state laws.
Whereas the Supreme Court ruling focused on an unreasonable intrusion into a man’s property by police who placed a tracker on his car, cases of private tracking hinge on a person’s expectation of privacy.
In a ruling in Minnesota last fall, a man was exonerated from charges that he illegally placed a GPS device on the car of his estranged wife, because he was considered a co-owner of the car.
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