Is it Illegal to Track Someone Without Them Knowing?

When you’re sure that your soon-to-be-ex has been up to no good, it can be severely tempting to use one of the cellphone tracking programs or a GPS to catch them in the act. After all, you can buy everything you need inexpensively online. It’s cheaper than hiring a professional, and you get to feel like a real-life spy. The question is, can you get away with it? I went digging for answers, and you may not like what I found.

Is it illegal to track someone without them knowing? Unless you manage to get consent, you cannot legally track an adult by most digital means like GPS or cellphone, but you can track your kids for their protection. If you own the vehicle they drive, or the phone they use, this would be an exception. Even police and the government are legally limited, though they have more right to monitor someone than you do as a citizen. Luckily, there are plenty of other ways to check in on people.

Track What You Own

Business owners have tracked employee movements in company cars easily enough, at least during work hours. Typically companies disclose their intent to track, even if it’s buried in a multi-page contract. The difference between this and climbing under someone’s car and installing an illegal tracker is that the one doing the tracking discloses their intent and owns the vehicle.

If you happen to own your spouses’ car or loan them yours, then you could have the right to track where it goes. It’s pretty questionable to do so. You still need to check your local laws even if you both own the car and make a disclosure. Not every area handles this the same way. There are portable compact GPS trackers you can attach to any vehicle. Some even have extra features like speed limit warnings. You can find this device on Amazon. (Click here to find the latest pricing and information)

Alternately, if your kids are in the car with them, then you can (in most cases) keep track of where your children are and thus indirectly know where the other occupants of the vehicle are. You don’t own children as such (kids aren’t slaves), but instead are responsible to and for them. While they are underage, you owe them a duty of care and the laws may see tracking as a favorable sign that you are following through on this. There is a tracking device on Amazon that is highly rated and recommended.  You would, however, need to subscribe to a mobile network (service is offered through the seller). For more information, click here.

Phone Tracking

Phones are just like vehicle GPS in some ways, for example tracking them is always legal with consent, but otherwise requires a warrant in the majority of states. Sure, there are ways to track other people’s phones and services that will offer to do so for you. Regardless of how relatively easy it may be, this is not worth the risk.

The trouble with phone-based location tracking is that it is a minefield. Legislation changes rapidly and in some places, there’s no protection at all were a few miles away phone tracking is highly illegal and can land you in jail. When tracking issues cross state lines, (cell phones, being portable, certainly do so regularly and without warning) the problem can get more complicated. If you need to track your phone, there are free apps available. One is available through Amazon. click here to get more information.

Phone Crimes

Trying to DIY your surveillance needs is a slippery slope. It’s safer to restrict your activities to the online venues until you have a full understanding of the local laws and potential consequences. As an adult, you have the right to make whatever decisions you deem fit, but some can land you in ridiculously hot water.

Even accidentally committing a crime that crosses state lines and uses a phone could potentially fall into some crazy categories like wire fraud. It’s also probably a federal issue since no single jurisdiction is involved. What seems like a harmless act of self-protection, perhaps just making sure your new wife or husband is faithful, can spiral out of control quickly. There are easier ways to find out who you’re dealing with.

Public Information DIY

Any information that is available to the public is available to you. The laws governing how you access this information vary. Some states require you to submit written requests while others have huge free and easy to access databases that show everything from criminal histories to current residents. Doing the footwork can be time-consuming, but rewarding if you know where to look.

You can pay for current address and phone number information on almost anyone. Doing this sort of surveillance differs significantly from physically walking around behind someone or digitally tracking their every move. Sadly, you won’t know where they are at a given time, but you’ll know where to start looking.

Let Your Target Do the Work For You

You might get lucky. Lots of people have public accounts that will track them for you if you know what to look for. Programs like Grinder, Tinder, and Foursquare will tell you where a person is located or where they have been. Most people don’t think to turn the tracking off.

Social Profiles

Google Latitude and Twitter also may give you unexpected insight. A shocking number of people tweet their whereabouts. Facebook contacts and other social media hold enough clues to a person’s life that marketing companies can tailor advertisements to meet personal needs.

Occasionally just keeping an eye on their online accounts will tell you whatever you want to know. Tailored advertising can be a clue. If you notice a whole lot of ads on your spouse’s phone and google page for dating sites or Ashley Madison, you might have a reason to worry. It’s not proof, but it’s a step in the right direction without any personal risk involved.

The same phenomena that create internet trolls and cyberbullying can lead to other bizarre online behavior. People feel anonymous online because they don’t have to directly interact with others. The lack of direct personal culpability can act in a similar manner to mob mentality and allows people to feel separate from the responsibility for their online actions.

Dating Profiles

Not every cheater or suspicious person is up to what you think. Of course, when they are, not everyone is smart about it. Sometimes checking the non-tracking hookup/dating sites is enough to find what you want to know without breaking any laws. It’s not always hard to find profiles someone creates. Searching google can turn up more results than you’d expect.

The trick here is that most people simply don’t think to cover their tracks completely. Most of us don’t know everywhere our information is publicly recorded. After all, who really reads the TOS agreements?

Buy a Background Check

A plethora of online companies will do a background check for you. The fees vary, but this has replaced hiring traditional private investigators because the fee usually allows you to look up as many people as you like for as long as your subscription is active.

You can find out current phone numbers. That includes phones your partner might not have mentioned they own. A partner with secret phone accounts is a potential source of trouble. Still, this is not as comforting as knowing exactly where someone is, but it’s legal.

Private Investigator

Why hire a PI if you can do so much yourself? The reality of hiring a licensed professional is nothing like what you see on TV. However, a Private Investigator does this for a living. They know tricks you do not. Most of the time they have resources you do not. Also, they have some legal rights that may extend beyond a regular citizen in most states. Especially when working with a lawyer, they can get information legally when you cannot.

There are limits to what they can do. A great example of this is surveillance. Simply put, your PI can’t just break into private property. Interestingly, however, the license they hold does affect whether or not they are stalking someone. When you sit outside your future wife’s business all day, it’s creepy at best and may be considered stalking. A Private Investigator in the same situation is on a stakeout and has the right to be there as long as they aren’t double parked in a tow away zone. For you, it’s personal. For them, it’s work. They have professional licensing standards and reputations to consider.

Final Thoughts

There are great ideas, and then there are those plans that have so much potential to go awry that they aren’t even worth considering. Illegal phone and GPS tracking is just a trainwreck of troubles. Whenever a possible solution to your problem ends with the punchline “interstate lines or federal jurisdiction,” hire a professional or break up the old fashioned way without the fuss.

Additional Questions

Can my phone be tracked if the GPS/Location Services is off? The short answer is yes. It’s still not legal for a regular joe to access that information without your permission, but that doesn’t stop people. Furthermore, Princeton University researchers developed a technique called PinMe that proves it’s possible.

Can someone track my phone without touching it? Yes. While there are a ton of fakes and scams designed to take a few dollars from everyone who falls for the con, there are also legitimate tracker programs. From WhatsApp spying options to live call recording, there are ways. Certainly, law enforcement can use them under the right circumstances, but sadly so can anyone else who pays for the right app.

What can I do if someone says I was stalking them? Your options here are limited. If the alleged victim is terrified of you they probably won’t want to talk it out. Consequently, even trying to apologize can make things worse. Moving from stalking into harassment isn’t even a large step, and you can get there without much effort. That would only give you two problems. A better option would be backing off and probably getting a lawyer.

Koryl
 

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