PI Fallout From GPS Supreme Court Decision
- The front page of Sunday's New York Times has a provocative article "Private
Snoops Find GPS Trail Legal to Follow." It did not take long for reporter
Erick Eckholm to reach out to private investigators in following up on last
week's U.S. Supreme Court unanimous decision in U.S. v. Jones which ruled
that placing a GPS device by the government is a search under the Fourth
Amendment which requires a warrant. The ruling does not apply to private
investigators but will have future implications.
ISPLA has been covering the potential ramifications of the Jones case
throughout 2011 and no doubt the publicity generated by this Supreme Court
decision will have serious ramifications which will have to be addressed by
this profession regarding numerous state and federal bills being introduced
to ban GPS tracking by the private sector. California and Texas ban many
uses of GPS tracking without consent, but do allow an exception for vehicle
owners. Most states do not address the subject, but that does not preclude a
target from claiming an invasion of privacy. Michigan allows an exception
for a professional investigator conducting a lawful investigation.
However, articles such as the one below -- even when containing examples how
such devices may benefit the public -- do not enhance the public's or
politicians' views of the private investigator. The article states:
"But today, anyone with $300 can compete with Jack Bauer. Online, and soon
in big-box stores, you can buy a device no bigger than a cigarette pack,
attach it to a car without the driver's knowledge and watch the vehicle's
travels - and stops - at home on your laptop.
Tens of thousands of Americans are already doing just that, with little
oversight, for purposes as seemingly benign as tracking an elderly parent
with dementia or a risky teenage driver, or as legally and ethically charged
as spying on a spouse or an employee - or for outright criminal stalking.
"Still, sales of GPS trackers to employers and individuals, for a multitude
of largely unregulated uses, are growing fast, raising new questions about
privacy and a legal system that has not kept pace with technology. This easy
tool for recording a person's every move is a powerful one that, when
misused, amounts to "electronic stalking," in the words of one private
According to the article "Sales of GPS trackers to private individuals may
have already surpassed more than 100,000 per year, some experts believe. The
marketing is just getting started." The article quotes several sellers of
GPS tracking devices, including the current NCISS legislative chairman, who
was not identified as such.
"Jimmie Mesis, a private investigator in New Jersey who, with his wife,
Rosemarie, publishes PI Magazine and also sells devices through a company
called <http://www.pigear.com/> PIgear, recalled a couple whose 17-year-old
daughter had a drug problem and would disappear for hours at a time. Worried
that she might overdose, they placed a tracker on her car. When they saw
that she was visiting the same house repeatedly, they informed the police,
who raided the drug den.
"Also rising is the placement of devices in the cars or pockets of elderly
parents with dementia. Mr. Mesis said one client with an erratic 86-year-old
father discovered that he had driven to the southern end of the Garden State
Parkway in New Jersey, and they were able to retrieve him.
The Times article quoted additional GPS outlets that also sell direct to the
public, as well as to investigators:
"Danny Burnham, the general manager of <http://thinkintouch.com/> InTouch
MVC in Lakeland, Fla., said that he was negotiating with Best Buy, Radio
Shack and Brookstone and that he hoped to be selling trackers in the big
retailers before the end of the year. The devices will be described as
safety tools, but no one can be sure of buyers' intentions.
"Selling a tracking device is similar to selling a firearm: you don't ask
what they are going to use it for, and what they do with it is entirely out
of our control," said Brad Borst, the owner of <http://www.rmtracking.com/>
Rocky Mountain Tracking in Fort Collins, Colo.
The full article may be read at:
ISPLA Director of Government Affairs
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