A New Jersey state appellate court has ruled that the use of a GPS device to track the whereabouts of a family member is not an invasion of privacy.
The decision was based on a messy divorce between a Gloucester County couple. Gloucester County Sheriff's Officer Kenneth Villanova sued private investigator Richard Leonard, who was hired by Villanova's now-ex-wife in 2007.
The court says Leonard had recommended she buy the tracking device after her husband had thwarted efforts to tail him. Leonard spotted Villanova leaving a driveway with a woman two weeks after the device was placed in a glove compartment.
The court said there was no evidence that the husband had driven the vehicle out of public view or to a private or secluded location where he could expect privacy.
This is a big win for all private investigators.
"This just helps to confirm that what we've done in the past is OK,” said Jimmie Mesis, editor-in-chief of PI Magazine. “And we're not breaking any laws."
Mesis said tracking cheating spouses is only 20 percent of his business, but he must follow certain rules.
“We never put a tracker on the car unless the client owns or co-owns the vehicle,” said Mesis. “That's been our policy."
The devices are so small and non-conspicuous they can be put virtually anywhere in a car. Mesis, who also owns the business PI Gear, said parents often purchase the trackers to see what their children are up to.
“Parents want to know what teen drivers are doing. Are they really going to their friend’s house? How fast are they driving? You can find out all this information, as it is happening with this technology.”
While a New Jersey court has upheld the right to use GPS tracking, not everyone is in favor of the practice.
"I think everyone is entitled to some privacy, even among spouses,” said Manuel Osorio of Teaneck. “Certain things you have to deal with on your own."
“Legally, I don’t think you can disagree with it,” said Joan Froehlich of Fort Lee. “But morally, you got to re-think your marriage there -- what's going on?"