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Private Investigators Safe From New Utah Law Limiting GPS Tracking

Although many private investigators rely on old-school techniques to surveil subjects, they often incorporate newer technology to assist them in their work. Some of that technology includes GPS trackers, which can discreetly be placed unknowingly on a subject’s car, transmitting data to the PI about the vehicle’s location, and presumably the target subject. Recently, this technology was on the chopping block as Representative Marie Polsen of Utah drafted a bill (HB223) aimed at eliminating the use of GPS tracking devices by anyone outside of law enforcement. If passed in its original context, the Bill would have prevented PIs from using the technology and made any illegal use of a GPS tracker a Class A misdemeanor. Obviously, private investigators opposed this Bill, and the nonprofit group Private Investigators Association of Utah lobbied to protect investigators. Private investigators can breathe a sigh of relief after lawmakers included a provision in HB 223 that allowed the use of GPS Tracking devices by licensed private investigators. Lawmakers signed the Utah bill this past May and it is currently effective.

The Legality of GPS Trackers

Though many newer cars now come standard with GPS technology installed by the manufacturer, the laws surrounding portable GPS trackers vary depending on the state. In a general sense, if the vehicle owner grants permission, a tracker can be placed; however, there is a lot of room for interpretation, and that should not be construed as the letter of the law. The reality is that the laws are varied, with some states interpreting the use as a Fourth Amendment rights violation. Different cases on similar issues with regard to GPS trackers were ruled differently by different judges and there isn’t an overarching federal rule, either. In Utah, before HB 223 was the law, anyone could install a GPS device on another person’s car without any legal ramifications. Though private investigators are still legally allowed to use GPS trackers, it is no longer legal for the general public to do so in Utah. Before installing a GPS tracking device, be sure to consult the specific laws in your state.

How PIs Use GPS Trackers

There are a number of reasons why a private investigator would want to use a GPS tracker. Mainly, private investigators install a GPS device on a vehicle to track or surveil a subject instead of physically following them. A while back we covered this topic, and the reality is that not a whole lot has changed universally. GPS technology remains an efficient, unobtrusive way to get details — and proof — about the whereabouts of a subject.

How to Find Out About GPS Laws in Your State

The most cut and dry way of finding out GPS’ legality in your state is to actually look up the legislation. While this often proves tedious, it is a surefire way to know the rules as they vary so widely from state to state. The good thing is that if your state requires training or licensure, this subject would likely be covered in the training and test. Additionally, private investigator organizations and associations dedicated to helping the industry will often keep an eye on any changes legally, and offer current information on laws and regulations applicable to investigations. They may also lobby for the benefit of the investigators. You can check out which associations are available in your state by visiting our state PI association page, which offers links to the association’s website (when available) and contact information to reach out about joining.

Always Err on the Side of Caution

When it comes to legal questions where answers vary from state to state, it is always best to err on the side of caution. Always double-check the laws in your state before engaging in behavior that could land you in legal hot water. You’ll be happy you did.

Join the Discussion

Do you have experience using GPS tracking devices? What are the GPS laws in your state? Share your thoughts by joining our groups on LinkedIn and Facebook or contact us.

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