For most people, a global positioning system — better known as a GPS — is a useful tool that can help keep them from getting lost, navigate detours, or find the quickest route between two points. These devices can also be used to track the movements of the vehicle in which it is installed. What if the device was installed without the knowledge of the vehicle’s operator? Would that constitute an invasion of privacy? Not necessarily according to New Jersey courts.
This question came to light in connection with a recent Gloucester County divorce case. In this case, the wife suspected her husband of having an extra-marital affair. She hired a private investigator to confirm her suspicions. At some point, the investigator suggested the wife consider putting a GPS device in one of the vehicles the couple owned together. She followed that advice and information obtained through the use of that device led to the discovery of the husband in the company of another woman. The husband sued the investigator for violation of his right to privacy. (1)
A New Jersey court found in favor of the defendants and that decision was upheld by the Appeals Court just last month. In hearing the case, the court found that there was no evidence that the device tracked the husband into secluded or private areas. (2) The husband’s vehicle was tracked on public roads and was in plain sight of public view. As such, the court ruled, there could be no reasonable expectation of privacy. Therefore, there was no invasion of privacy and no rights were violated. (1)
When its next term begins in October, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to consider whether or not GPS devices can be used by law enforcement officials without the aid of a warrant. In the meantime, this court decision opens the door for law enforcement agencies in New Jersey to use such technology not only for catching unfaithful spouses in the act, but also in child custody and insurance fraud cases. (3)