Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Can You Put a GPS on My Boyfriend’s Car?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 26, 2009


Can You Put a GPS on My Boyfriend’s Car?

Updated August 20, 2012

We get asked variations of this question a lot.

Let’s start with a definition of GPS (Global Positioning System), which is an assemblage of satellites that orbit the Earth that

Artist Interpretation of GPS satellite, image ...

Artist Interpretation of GPS satellite, image courtesy of NASA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

people with ground receivers use to pinpoint geographic locations.  For most equipment, the location accuracy ranges from 10 to 100 meters; with special military-approved equipment, accuracy can be pinpointed to within 1 meter.  GPS equipment has become sufficiently low-cost so that almost anyone can own a GPS receiver (some of you may have GPS trackers in your own vehicles).

We use GPS tracking devices in our work, but we’re extremely careful that their use is legal before we attach one anywhere.  For vehicles, it’s illegal for a PI to attach a GPS device in/on a vehicle that his client doesn’t own.   No way around it unless the PI wants to court a felony.  We’ve had potential clients ask us to attach a GPS device on their boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s/spouse’s car, and we always ask: “Is your name on that car’s registration?  No?  Sorry, it’s illegal).  We never assume that a husband’s or wife’s name is on the registration for their spouse’s vehicle, btw.  We’ve had husbands and wives claim their names are definitely on their spouse’s vehicles, but we always double-check (surprising how many times both spouses’ names aren’t on a vehicle’s registration).

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14 Responses to “Can You Put a GPS on My Boyfriend’s Car?”

  1. I’m not surprised to learn that both spouses don’t own their vehicles. What I am surprised to learn is the number of people who feel compelled to “check up” on their spouses. Call me naive…

  2. Hope Clark said

    Is using a GPS on a non-client’s vehicle illegal throughout the US or does it vary state by state? Do you have a cite? I’m thinking it might be a regional/state deal, like recording without someone’s knowledge. Thanks.

    • writingpis said

      The illegal uses of electronic devices to record someone’s voice or movement would come under wiretapping and eavesdropping, just as you indicated, and each state would have its own statute on this. Also, each state is left free to define what an individual’s expectation of privacy is under that state’s constitution.

      There is no central registry for laws on GPS usage, but sites that discuss rights to privacy will often have indicators as to what a given state’s policy might be. In our state, a GPS is defined as a “tracking device” which means an “electronic or mechanical device which permits the tracking of the movement of a person or object” and the unauthorized use of an electronic tracking device is a felony.

  3. Eva Molina said

    Question. Is it illegal in Alexandria, Va. to place a tracking device on someone’s vehicle. My name is not on his car registration. I want to track someone’s whereabouts and want to know if it is legal to place a tracking device on his car. I don’t want to get in trouble with the law. I read several articles, one said it was legal and another said it was illegal. Which one is it?

    • writingpis said

      Your name isn’t on the car registration, so it’s illegal.

      • bulldogpi said

        Actually, my understanding is that is currently criminally legal (but a very bad idea civily) for a PI to put a GPS on someone’s vehicle even if the client is not on the registration. It is however illegal for a private citizen/non-pi to do so or follow that person around, etc..etc… The anti-stalking laws are pretty strict in Virginia, PI’s are exempt so long as they are conducting a legitimate investigation for a legitimate client.

        Also be aware that there is a great deal of unlicensed activity in Virginia, as unfortunately the Virginia DCJS department of Criminal Justice Services is not up to par in prosecuting offenders due to major budget cuts. That DCJS card with a 9919xxxx number that a PI waves in front of you is not a license, it’s a registration. The PI in question also must work for a LICENSED and insured private investigation company. For whatever reason, the state has developed a system which leaves alot to be desired regarding public awareness of whether or not someone can legally conduct investigations on their behalf.

        Any attorney worth their salt will question whether the PI is employed by a licensed company. If not, and he or she only has a registration, the case will be tossed out of court and evidence obtained by the rogue PI will be deemed as inadmissable.

        James Pollock
        Bulldog Investigations and Security
        Virginia DCJS License #11-6038

        I am not an attorney and the information I’ve provided is not intended to act as legal advice. Do not take my post as other than an attempt to offer helpful insight on the subject. In legal matters, it’s always important to consult with an attorney prior to taking any course of action that can leave you open to criminal or civil prosecution.

      • writingpis said

        Dear James,

        This is indeed a small world–I just yesterday wrote an article on private investigations for another site and referred to your article “Warning: Outlaw Investigators Are on the Rise” (and acknowledged your name, business name, within the article)–I’ll forward a link to that article when it’s live. Readers, James provided a link to that same article in his above comment.

        Thank you for dropping by and sharing your insights here at Gams, Gams, and Gumshoes.

  4. angela said

    I live in NC my husband and his sister hired a PI to follow me, although they found nothing when i went to mediation for the divorce proceeding i was seeking they had admitted and had on record that they had the pi come into our drive way and place the device on my car before i went to work. first all..the care is not titled or registered to him or her only me. the property is not registered or deeded to either of them it is only in my name and as he had already gave up all interest in the property by signing it over to me prior to the separation. so the question I pose is this: is it legal that the pi came on to the property and placed the gps on my auto at my husbands request even when he holds no title or deed to either and not disclose it to me?

    • writingpis said

      As stated in our article, it is illegal to place a GPS on a vehicle without the registered owner’s consent.

  5. bulldogpi said

    In Virginia, I believe the GPS portion of the matter may be legal. The trespassing scenario in order to do so is a horse of an entirely different color.

    Cautionary note: Although Virginia Law from the GPS installation, it does take a strong stance on stalking, and without a private investigation registration, working on a legitimate case someone installing such would be handing LE an invitation to pursue them on charges of same.

    James Pollock
    Bulldog Investigations
    Virginia DCJS #11-6038

  6. bulldogpi said

    Writing PI’s

    I appreciate your referral regarding my somewhat crude blog efforts. It’s been a while since I made any serious literary efforts. My blog postings punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure are not always the best. I don’t want to give my fellow ‘writing pi’s’ a swelled head, but your blog puts mine to shame from a literary standpoint.

    Regarding my posting, in Virginia, outlaw investigators ARE on the rise. Between large budget cuts to DCJS (figure that one out… during economic turmoil and increasing criminal activity stemming out of financial desperation, the state cuts the budget to the department overseeing law enforcement and the private security industry alike…) and increasing numbers of layoffs, and terminations, many unlicensed investigators are showing up on the scene. Since they’re skirting the law anyway regarding licensing, there isn’t a particular incentive for them to retain insurance on their makeshift companies. As if a few bad apples aready don’t give the rest of us a smudged reputation.

    James Pollock
    Bulldog Investigations
    Virginia DCJS License #11-6038 &

    • writingpis said

      Thank you.

      We hear you regarding outlaw investigators on the rise. Today “voluntary licensure” was voted into law by the Colorado senate, a proposed bill that some PIs in our state hired lobbyists to help push through. Those of us who were opposed to voluntary licensing didn’t want the “voluntary” aspect–we wanted true licensure with testing, continuing education, insurance and other requirements. We didn’t want felons with recent criminal records practicing private investigations. Neither did our state regulatory agency who testified against the bill. Instead, “voluntary licensure” has none of these things…no testing, no continuing education, no insurance requirements, and felons with enough rap sheets to paper the walls of the senate can still practice private investigations.

      Colorado voluntary licensure means anybody can hang out a shingle.

      Yours in spirit, Writing PIs

  7. bulldogpi said

    What the heck is voluntary licensure? The state either requires licensing or it doesn’t. Sounds to me like another example of those in government making decisions regarding a topic they know very little or nothing about.

    We have that problem (clueless representation) over here as well.

    James Pollock
    Bulldog Investigations
    Virginia DCJS #11-6038

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