Another form of snooping that some suspicious spouses might be tempted to employ is placing a GPS tracking device on the spouse’s car to track his or her whereabouts. But before you start fantasizing about spying like Jack Bauer (or Sydney Bristow, for the ladies), it is unclear right now whether this form of spying on your spouse is permissible. On this subject, the law has not yet caught up with technology.
In US v. Jones last year, the Supreme Court addressed whether the government may use GPS devices hidden on vehicles to track the activities of criminal suspects. The Court found that using such a device does constitute a search under the 4th Amendment, so police are generally required to obtain a warrant in order to place a GPS device on a suspect’s vehicle.
When it comes to you and your spouse, some lawyers disagree about whether the Jones decision would apply to using a GPS device to track a family member. There is no law on this subject yet, and it is unclear how courts will rule. In the family law context, the question boils down to two issues: (1) ownership and (2) expectation of privacy.
If you own the car, it is titled in your name, and you are not separated from your spouse, then you most likely have legal authority to install a GPS device on the car. The same would be true if you wanted to track your spouse using a phone GPS app — if you own the phone, it is registered under your name, and you are not separated from your spouse, you can probably install the tracking app without being in any legal trouble.
Expectation of Privacy
If, however, you do not own the car or phone, it is not titled in your name, or you are separated from your spouse, then your spouse may very well have an expectation of privacy in his or her car and phone. While North Carolina courts have not specifically addressed this issue, you should think twice about using GPS under these circumstances because your spouse may have grounds to sue you for several torts. You could potentially be liable for money damages for invasion of privacy or trespass if you violate your spouse’s expectation of privacy.
Both technology and the law are constantly changing. If you are thinking of using a GPS device to track your spouse, talk to a lawyer first about where the law stands at the time and how your actions might affect you and your legal position in the future.