GPS Tracking Laws – The Complete Legal Guide 2023
GPS tracking is an inexpensive and convenient method to surveil a person, asset, or vehicle. The location-based technology can help any person or business gather information about where a person, vehicle, or asset is going, everywhere it has been, how fast it is traveling, and more. GPS vehicle tracking offers parents who are concerned about their children’s safety the ability to know where they are 24/7 while also offering business owners the ability to manage fleets, employees, and work assets. Purchasing a GPS tracking device is 100% legal in every state, but how a person uses the surveillance technology could violate the law. This article is designed to address basic GPS laws in each state to help people legally track someone or something.
In most circumstances, using a GPS unit on the vehicle or asset you own is entirely legal. However, federal, local, and state laws vary when it comes to GPS trackers placed on the property or vehicle of others. We will go into more detail about those situations when law enforcement, a private investigator, or a person wanting to catch a cheating husband wants to secretly track someone else’s car. But let’s start with some of the basics:
Generally, it is legal to install a GPS tracking device when:
- The vehicle is owned by you or your business
- You want to protect your vehicle or asset from theft
- The device is used to track your children or teen driver (under 18)
- You are following a car for legal repossession
On the other hand, it is likely illegal to use GPS tracking units if :
- You enter a vehicle that is not owned by you or your business
- You are trying to track a girlfriend or boyfriend in the car that they own
Related Content: 10 Best Cheating Spouse GPS Devices
Famous Court Cases That Shaped GPS Laws In America
Ever since vehicle surveillance devices were introduced in the marketplace, the lawsuits and court cases that address the ethical and lawful uses of tracking devices have increased rapidly. In fact, rulings on GPS tracking among law enforcement agencies that use vehicle trackers to spy on civilians have made it from lower courts all the way to the Supreme Court (See Antoine Jones case). Regarding civilians, the cases dealt with how live GPS was used to track employees, family members, children, or personal assets. From increasing a child’s safety to using an asset tracking device to observe the location or movement of any car, the following rulings on GPS tracking helped shape the laws and how we know them today. One landmark case involved Antoine Jones, the owner of the vehicle, and police who did not first acquire a search warrant before secretly tracking his personal vehicle.
The Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officials and the government will not be allowed to place GPS devices on a person’s vehicle or property merely on the basis of suspicion. This means police can’t place a fleet tracking device on a private citizen’s personal vehicle to record driving activity without first obtaining a search warrant. For civilian use, tracking the movement of another person, property, or vehicle is not explicitly addressed in the Federal Law, but several states have resolved these concerns and questions. For instance, in Virginia, it is entirely lawful to utilize a GPS device on the condition that consent is obtained from the vehicle’s registered owner. In other states, such as Wisconsin, a person can be criminally charged for using electronic surveillance or GPS trackers on the vehicle of somebody else without their consent. This is why consulting with an attorney is crucial in clarifying the local and state GPS laws.
Here are some court cases that address the use of tracking devices such as GPS and other electronic surveillance:
Elgin v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. (2005)
The following case of 2005 concerns a company-owned vehicle being monitored or tracked outside office or work hours. The decision of the court came in favor of the company, and the employee’s claim was denied. The court ruled this decision because the car was owned by the company.
Tubbs v. Wynn Transport (2007)
This is a case where the vehicle of the employee was owned by the company and was tracked in the absence of his knowledge. The court’s decision came against the employee, as the employer owned the car.
United States v Jones (2011)
The case was filed after the police officials installed a GPS tracker on the drug trafficker’s Jeep merely based on suspicion. Although the evidence obtained from the GPS tracker was sufficient to sentence Jones, the court ruled against the police. According to the court, it violated Jone’s rights as stated in the Fourth Amendment.
Cunningham v. New York Department of Labor (2013)
The employee’s vehicle was monitored after office hours without being told by the employer. The employee had been penalized for misleading reporting of time previously as well. The court’s decision came on the side of the employer as the evidence from the GPS illustrated that the employer misled his work time.
United States v. Katzin (2013)
This is a case that concerns police placing a GPS unit on the car or vehicle of a person who was thought or suspected to be linked with different robberies. The court ruled against the police as the actions of the police violated the Fourth Amendment rights of the suspect.
The laws concerning GPS tracking evolve in areas where government agencies and police use them on private citizens. When it involves GPS tracking from one citizen to another or one employee to another, the laws tend to be more relaxed and undefined.
Police and Licensed Private Investigators’ Use Of GPS Tracking Devices (Legal Framework)
It is essential to know that the laws concerning GPS tracking by businesses, private citizens, or police officials are not definitive in nature. There is no law in the Constitution that addresses the monitoring from GPS technologies or any other instances of monitoring done through electronic surveillance. The Fourth Amendment, Federal Laws, and other laws grant U.S residents a limited extent of protection concerning their privacy, which includes stringent limits on seizure and searching illegally.
The rulings were issued by Supreme Court and other lower courts in 2012 and 2013, but this decision narrowly addressed the use of tracking devices by police officials and employers. The ruling has been conflicting regarding using GPS devices in the private sector. The court’s law favors the person for using GPS if either the vehicle is owned by the person or that specific person has received consent prior to surveilling others.
Each state has its specific laws that protect citizens’ privacy. The laws of each state address different how or in what situations electronic surveillance such as GPS can be used to track the movement of others. GPS Laws in Alabama, Alaska, and Arizona In Alabama, if an individual intentionally engages in surveillance on private property, the person will be criminally charged according to the state’s criminal justice laws. In Alaska, if a person uses devices such as GPS to record or track the movements of others in their workplace or residence without their approval, In this case, they will be charged with stalking in the second degree. The state of Arizona considers an individual stalker if that individual uses GPS devices to track the movement of others without their consent for over twelve hours.
GPS Laws in California, Colorado, and Connecticut
In California, the laws do not permit a person to track a vehicle if they do not own it. In Colorado, Bonnie’s law states the individual can be charged for staking if that person keeps another person in surveillance through devices such as GPS. The constant and repetitive use of GPS is considered stalking in Connecticut, provided the use of electronic surveillance causes the other person to fear for their physical safety.
GPS Laws in Delaware and the District of Columbia
In Delaware, it is not permissible for a person to place GPS on the vehicle of others without the consent of the owner. However, the laws in Delaware do have some relaxation for law enforcement agencies regarding the use of electronic surveillance. In the district of Columbia, the rules have made it illegal to track the movement of others without their consent.
GPS Laws in Idaho, Illinois, and Indiana
The laws in Illinois make it completely illegal to use electronic surveillance such as GPS to record the movement of others. In Idaho, disclosing any tracking device, including GPS, is unlawful. The laws in Indiana allow a person to use GPS to determine the location of others for a legal purpose.
GPS Tracking Laws in Kentucky
The laws in Kentucky state that a person can use GPS tracking systems and wear them on their body as long as it does not impact the person’s integrity.
GPS Tracking Laws in Louisiana
The legislative staff in Louisiana courts allow the use of GPS as long as it does not invade the person’s 4th Amendment rights.
GPS Tracking Laws in Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Montana
Staking is defined in Maine as when a person surveils another person without consent in a way that makes the person being tracked fear for their safety. In Massachusetts, if a person uses GPS to track the movements of others without their permission, they can face paying a fine in the thousands of dollars. Similarly, in Michigan, if a person places a device on any other vehicle without the owner’s consent, they could face imprisonment of one year and a fine of $1000. The laws related to privacy in Minnesota do not make it permissible to track other people without their permission. In Mississippi, stalking is considered when GPS is used to follow other people in a way that they do not feel comfortable. According to the laws in Montana, it is not permissible for any individual to track others in a way that they feel distressed.
GPS Laws in Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and North Dakota
In Nebraska, a court has the right to issue a warrant to a person who installed the devices meant for tracking the movement of others. According to the laws in New Hampshire, the installation of tracking devices is illegal on an individual or a citizen without a warrant. The New Jersey laws allow tracking devices to locate criminal activity. An individual is considered a stalker if tracking devices are used on a person without lawful authority to pose a danger to them. Without any legal authorization, it is not permissible to locate any other person using any tracking devices, including GPS, in New York. Also, it is not acceptable for parents or legal guardians to use GPS to track their children on school buses. In North Carolina, the use of electronic devices such as GPS to determine the location information of others is not permissible. If GPS technologies or devices are used so that the other is threatened or frightened, then this activity is considered unauthorized in North Dakota.
GPS Laws in Ohio and Oregon
The laws in Ohio state that it is illegal for anyone to place GPS units for recording location without the consent of others. In Oregon, GPS can only be used for tracking if a warrant is issued.
GPS Laws in Pennsylvania
The use of GPS or tracking devices is only allowed for private investigations with the authorization of a licensed private investigator or law enforcement agency.
GPS Tracking Laws In Rhode Island
In Rhode Island, it is not permissible to install or place a GPS tracker in a vehicle without the owner’s consent.
GPS Laws in South Carolina and South Dakota
It is punishable by law in South Carolina if a person uses a tracking device to record the movements of others. In South Dakota, the tracking devices such as GPS are only allowed with the magistrate’s authorization.
GPS Tracking Laws in Tennessee and Texas
In Tennessee, it is not permissible to place any tracking device on a vehicle without the owner’s consent. Similarly, Texas law makes it unacceptable for anyone to install a GPS on their motor vehicle if the person does not own the vehicle. In cases where the individual is neither the owner nor the lessee, that individual is not permitted by law to install GPS devices on the motor vehicle.
GPS Tracking Laws In Utah
According to the laws in Utah, tracking devices, including GPS, can be used to record the movement of others for a lawful purpose.
GPS Tracking Laws In Virginia
The laws in Virginia state that an individual is punishable by a penalty if they use tracking devices without the consent of others.
GPS Laws in Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
In Washington, it is legal for a person to use a GPS device as long as it is lawful. In West Virginia, the use of GPS to track the movement of others without consent is illegal. The activity is considered stalking in Wisconsin if an individual uses GPS or electronic tracking devices to track the activity of others without approval.
Conclusion The Fourth Amendment and other state and federal laws grant citizens in the U.S. protection concerning their privacy. With that being said, there are no definitive laws that directly address the use of GPS tracking technology or another device that can electronically track the movements of others. The existing laws in different states do not allow tracking devices such as GPS on assets, vehicles, or any other property that the person does not own. In most states, for law enforcement officers and agencies, electronic surveillance is only allowed when a warrant is issued.
Legal Situations for Using GPS Tracking: Keeping Your Loved Ones, Vehicles, and Assets Safe
GPS trackers are an easy and convenient way of tracking your loved ones, vehicles, and assets. But what are the situations you can and cannot use a GPS device to secretly track a vehicle? Let’s recap it all!
- As a parent, you may be constantly worried about your school-going child’s safety on their way back home. In this case, you can legally use a GPS tracker for kids to ensure they are safe.
- If you have a teenager who has just started driving, it makes total sense you would be worried about their safety. In this case, you can use a GPS vehicle tracker to monitor their activity and keep an eye on where they go and how fast they drive.
- If you are going on vacation, you may be worried about a lost suitcase. In this situation, you can secure your backpack, luggage, or personal items with the help of a real-time GPS tracker.
- If you are suspicious of your spouse for infidelity, you can plant a GPS tracker for cheating spouses on the vehicle to keep an eye on them. However, remember that you must be the legal owner of the car they are driving. If not, consult with a private investigator or law enforcement about the GPS tracking laws in your area.
- If you are worried about your assets on job site, you can legally place an asset tracker on your equipment to protect it from theft.
Information in this article should not be considered legal advice. We highly encourage you to speak with a licensed attorney in your area before using any GPS vehicle tracking to spy on someone in order to avoid violating someone’s privacy rights.
- GPS Tracking Laws – The Complete Legal Guide 2023
- Famous Court Cases That Shaped GPS Laws In America
- Elgin v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. (2005)
- Tubbs v. Wynn Transport (2007)
- United States v Jones (2011)
- Cunningham v. New York Department of Labor (2013)
- United States v. Katzin (2013)
- GPS Laws in California, Colorado, and Connecticut
- GPS Laws in Delaware and the District of Columbia
- GPS Laws in Idaho, Illinois, and Indiana
- GPS Tracking Laws in Kentucky
- GPS Tracking Laws in Louisiana
- GPS Tracking Laws in Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Montana
- GPS Laws in Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and North Dakota
- GPS Laws in Ohio and Oregon
- GPS Laws in Pennsylvania
- GPS Tracking Laws In Rhode Island
- GPS Laws in South Carolina and South Dakota
- GPS Tracking Laws in Tennessee and Texas
- GPS Tracking Laws In Utah
- GPS Tracking Laws In Virginia
- GPS Laws in Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
- Legal Situations for Using GPS Tracking: Keeping Your Loved Ones, Vehicles, and Assets Safe