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PI Fallout From GPS Supreme Court Decision

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  • Peter Psarouthakis
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2012
      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:


      Bruce Hulme
      ISPLA Director of Government Affairs
      <http://www.ispla.org/> www.ISPLA.org

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