When we hear private investigator, we immediately draw an image of a slender figure with a hatted head. Or perhaps an older gentleman with a marvelous mustache and a walking stick. However, the work of private investigators might not be as glamorous as their fictional counterparts. They often have to get their hands dirty. And that is why the legality of their methods is not always condonable.
In current times, GPS technology has become a powerful ally for private investigators. They no longer need to risk their lives physically tailing their targets. They can discretely put a GPS tracker in their target’s car and monitor them from the safety and comfort of their home or office. However, the use of this particular gadget also lands them right in the middle of a decade-old argument – is it legal for private investigators to use a GPS tracker? Or is it an invasion of privacy?
Let’s find out! GPS tracking devices and Private Investigators – What is Legal?
Table of Contents
Who is a Private Investigator, and What do They do?
A private investigator is a licensed professional hired by groups or individuals to take up investigatory law services. They search for clues and thus gather pieces of evidence for their clients. The investigation carried on by private investigators is lawful as they are certified to do so. With a keen eye for minute details, strong observation skills, and analytical skills, private investigators help attorneys to find clues. Major tasks of an investigator include –
- They perform undercover investigation
- They perform surveillance activity
- They interview a lot of people
- They research
- They analyze the information
- They document and report the result of their investigations
You will find private investigators in various fields, including criminal, civil, security, computer forensics, behavioral science, insurance, and more.
How is Stalking Different from Investigations?
There is no legal definition for stalking. However, in general, stalking is an act of unwanted surveillance. On the other hand, investigation refers to a legal search for hidden facts, following all the rules and regulations.
The stalkers are motivated by delusion, malice, and entitlement, while PIs are motivated by their duty towards their clients. The private investigators conduct surveillance in return for a fee wherein they charge to find information for someone else. Stalkers never care about being caught by the victims; it is because of their motive they are okay with being noticed by the victim. The private investigators never get involved in any direct surveillance. They want to gather clues for their clients and get their work done.
If a private investigator gets caught, in that case, they immediately stop because if they don’t, it would be stalking! They respect the law more than anything. Stalking is invading someone’s privacy and making unwanted contact.
For example, with a GPS tracker, a stalker might use it unlawfully without anyone’s permission. An investigator keeps things safe and never puts a tracker on any vehicle without the owner’s permission. Even when they have to collect information about a family member, they need consent.
The difference between law enforcement and private investigators is that the former has the law behind them, while the latter is a civilian. This difference hinders private investigators from taking liberties that can potentially violate law and privacy.
GPS Tracker Features That Private Investigators Need
Just like you cannot treat all ailments with the same medication, a GPS tracking solution must target your requirement. It is pertinent for private investigators to choose tracking devices that work as their companions in all situations. Now, we have discussed the legality of GPS tracker usage by these detectives and established that they can only track vehicles and assets that belong to their clients on paper. Therefore, they cannot place these trackers into their targets’ bags, purses, or clothing.
There are three types of GPS tracking devices perfect for vehicles – portable, OBD-II plug-in, and hardwired trackers. While an OBD-II tracker can be plugged-in into the car’s dashboard and hardwired can be installed in the engine, these do not serve a private eye’s purpose. They need a portable tracker like the one from Family1st, which has several features fulfilling their needs. Here is why private detectives must choose this GPS tracker –
- Portable GPS trackers do not need any installation. Private detectives can put it in the glove box or under the seat and start tracking!
- They are compact and sturdy, making them the discrete partner they need.
- These trackers are versatile, and PIs can use them to track anything on wheels – car, bike, motorbike, RV, ATV, etc.
- They come with long-lasting rechargeable batteries. The battery life after one charge depends on the number of location updates the user wants. If they opt for one ping every minute, the battery will run in a few days. But if they go for one ping a day, they can keep tracking for six months on a single charge. The devices also come with a low-battery alert.
- PIs can also get waterproof and magnetic trackers. These trackers come in handy when they have a few seconds to put the tracker in a vehicle. The waterproofing feature ensures that the tracker will survive any dire conditions, and the magnet allows them to attach it to any metallic surface.
- Another vital part of GPS tracking solutions is the companion app, which the user can download on any android or iOS device and monitor the target from the safety of their home/office/car.
- Location reports from portable trackers are accurate and admissible evidence in court. So, if a client wants a PI to tail a target and gather information pertinent to any future civil or criminal suit, the data they collect will benefit their case.
Is it Legal to Use GPS While Conducting an Investigation?
The laws about the usage of GPS trackers differ from place to place. Nonetheless, many states regulate the use of trackers. The usage is allowed by a specific law to avoid any misuse. You will see private investigators using the tracker, especially when they follow a vehicle. The vehicle’s owner usually permits them for tracking, and there is no risk involved. However, such a case is only possible when the target is using somebody else’s car, like an office car or a rental.
Often you see business owners adding a tracker to their company vehicles. It is because they are not allowed to use the company vehicle for personal use. GPS technology is of great advantage for companies that deliver services or products from one place to another. The technology allows the company to monitor the fleet, boost the driver’s productivity, and reduce fuel costs.
To sum it up, you can say, using GPS trackers is legal only in the following situations:
- When you or your organization own the asset that is to be tracked.
- When your asset is taken away without your permission.
- When you have to track your child who is under 18 years of age.
- When you want to track a car or asset for legal repossession that is in default of a loan.
The usage of a GPS tracker is illegal in the following cases:
- When you don’t own the vehicle, you don’t own the right to track it.
- When you’re trying to track your friend or relative in their car.
With all the information, you can now tell how imperative a GPS tracker is for a private investigator if they use a tracker within the purview of the law. However, if they try to threaten a client with it, they may be fined or lose their license to practice.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a private investigator?
A private investigator (PI) is a professional hired to undertake investigative work for private individuals, businesses, or other organizations. Private investigators may conduct surveillance, gather evidence, and provide other types of investigative services.
Is it legal for private investigators to use GPS tracking devices?
The legality of GPS tracking by private investigators varies depending on the jurisdiction. In some states and countries, it is legal for private investigators to use GPS tracking devices as long as they obtain the consent of the individual being tracked. In other jurisdictions, however, GPS tracking by private investigators may be illegal or may require a court order.
Can GPS tracking devices be used to track someone without their knowledge?
In many jurisdictions, it is illegal to use GPS tracking devices to track someone without their knowledge or consent. In some cases, even obtaining the consent of the individual being tracked may not be enough to make the tracking legal.
What are the potential consequences of illegally using GPS tracking devices?
The consequences of illegally using GPS tracking devices can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances. In many cases, however, illegally using GPS tracking devices can result in criminal charges and civil lawsuits.
Can employers use GPS tracking devices to track their employees?
The legality of employers using GPS tracking devices to track their employees also varies depending on the jurisdiction. In some cases, employers may be required to obtain the consent of their employees before using GPS tracking devices. In other cases, the use of GPS tracking devices by employers may be illegal or may require a court order.
What steps can individuals take to protect their privacy from GPS tracking?
There are a number of steps that individuals can take to protect their privacy from GPS tracking. These may include turning off location tracking on their mobile devices, using privacy-focused apps and services, and being cautious about sharing their location data with others.
Can GPS tracking devices be used to track vehicles without the owner’s consent?
In many jurisdictions, it is illegal to use GPS tracking devices to track vehicles without the owner’s consent. In some cases, even obtaining the consent of the vehicle’s owner may not be enough to make the tracking legal.
Carson Rogers is a technology writer and reviewer. With over 5 years of experience in the industry, he has established himself as an expert in the technology niche. His passion for all things tech and his keen eye for detail enable him to provide thorough and insightful product reviews that help readers make informed decisions. Carson enjoys hiking in his free time when he's not busy reviewing the latest gadgets. His love for the outdoors also inspires him to write about tech gadgets that are useful and make life convenient.