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GPS Trackers: Perception vs. Legal Realities

Global Positioning Systems or GPS units are commonly used devices for mapping and tracking all over the world. The systems itself is a space-based global navigation satellite system that provides location information anywhere on the Earth. Many do not know that it is maintained by the United States government and is freely accessible by anyone with a GPS receiver.

If you search for GPS tracking devices on the internet, you can easily find hundreds of different types of devices for purchase. The tracking devices come in all sizes with add-ons and many types of services. Most tracking devices require a monthly subscription to activate and use. The charges are for the services to contact or “ping” out for the purpose of tracking. The average cost is several hundred dollars for the unit and service. Often these devices are used by parents to track children or by fleet managers to track company vehicles.

In some cases GPS units can be used in investigations for tracking purposes and in conjunction with a surveillance investigation. However, many do not know that there are laws throughout the United States that restrict or even outlaw the use of GPS units. In California it can be a misdemeanor to track the movement of a person via a GPS or other tracking device.

The California Penal Code 637.7 states the following:

(a) No person or entity in this state shall use an electronic tracking device to determine the location or movement of a person.
(b) This section shall not apply when the registered owner, lessor, or lessee of a vehicle has consented to the use of the electronic tracking device with respect to that vehicle.
(c) This section shall not apply to the lawful use of an electronic tracking device by a law enforcement agency.
(d) As used in this section, “electronic tracking device” means any device attached to a vehicle or other movable thing that reveals its location or movement by the transmission of electronic signals.
(e) A violation of this section is a misdemeanor.
(f) A violation of this section by a person, business, firm, company, association, partnership, or corporation licensed under Division 3 (commencing with Section 5000) of the Business and Professions Code shall constitute grounds for revocation of the license issued to that person, business, firm, company, association, partnership, or corporation, pursuant to the provisions that provide for the revocation of the license as set forth in Division 3 (commencing with Section 5000) of the Business and Professions Code.

There is a new bill in California that would restrict the use of GPS tracking even further. Assembly bill 452 authored by Fiona Ma has been passed by the assembly and is currently in the Senate Committee for Public Safety.

Often, the public and businesses call our investigation firm and request this service. There are some cases where GPS tracking can be allowed. However, for the majority of the cases it is against the law. Many private detectives offer this service in California and other states. It is important to hire a private investigator who is going to know all laws in their state, because the liability can be applied to you as a client. Gailey Associates, Inc denies service to 99% of the requests for GPS tracking investigations.

For more information, please email or call us at 714) 622-1900 in Orange County or 310) 860-1538 in Los Angeles.

This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.