GPS Tracking Laws Explained

Here's what you need to know about the legal implications of GPS tracking for personal and business use

 

GPS tracking is an easy and affordable way to monitor a person, vehicle or asset. With extremely minimal effort, you can know where they are, where they've been, where they're going and how fast they're traveling. But what's legal and what's not in the world of GPS?

For starters, it's entirely legal to use a GPS tracking device on any vehicle or asset you own. But before you use a GPS tracking device on someone else's person, vehicle or property, you should do a little research on current federal, state and local laws.

As of now, here's what private citizens need to know about GPS tracking and the law:

It's generally legal to use a GPS tracking device if:

  • You or your organization own the vehicle

  • You or your company do not own the vehicle, but you place the GPS device on the outside of the car – under the rear bumper, for example

  • The vehicle is visible to the public – in a public parking lot or on a public street, for example

  • You could obtain the same location or travel information by physically trailing the vehicle

  • The vehicle is not situated on someone else’s private property

It’s generally illegal to use a GPS tracking device if:

  • You need to break into the vehicle to situate the device

  • You need to physically hard-wire the device inside the vehicle

  • The vehicle is in a place where its owner has a reasonable expectation of privacy – in a private garage, for example

You should know that the laws governing GPS tracking by government agents, police or private citizens are not definitive. The Fourth Amendment and other state and federal laws grant United States residents certain protections to their privacy, including strict limits on illegal search and seizure. But there's nothing in the Constitution that specifically addresses GPS tracking technology – or many other forms of electronic surveillance.

The Supreme Court and several lower courts issued rulings on GPS in 2012, but those decisions addressed narrow uses of the technology by police and employers, respectively. The courts didn't address the use of GPS tracking devices by private citizens.

With its recent ruling on GPS tracking by police, the Supreme Court left many questions unanswered. But the justices signaled that they were ready to delve more deeply into electronic surveillance issues. You can read more about the latest Supreme Court decision here.