A recent update to a North Carolina GPS tracking bill would allow private investigators to use a tracker under certain circumstances, in the context of a lawful investigation.
North Carolina Senate “Cyberstalking” Bill 238 outlines the regulations governing GPS tracking devices used by private investigators. The initial bill removed licensed private investigators and private detectives from the use of such devices, which would greatly hinder the private investigation business.
GPS tracking has become a critical tool in the private investigation industry. Following a target with just a single investigator has many challenges. Many cases require the use of 2 or more investigators to keep an eye on a single vehicle, which can end up being costly to the client.
The good news to investigators is that the amended bill added private investigators and private detectives back in the bill as an exception to the rule. This bill has since passed both the House and the Senate, has been ratified as of 09/28/2015, and is awaiting signature by the Governor to be put into law. The bill, if signed into law, would go into effect December 1, 2015.
The new wording for this bill includes the following: 14-196.3 (5)(k)
(b) It is unlawful for a person to:
(5) Knowingly install, place, or use an electronic tracking device without consent, or cause an electronic tracking device to be installed, placed, or used without consent, to track the location of any person. The provisions of this subdivision do not apply to the installation, placement, or use of an electronic tracking device by any of the following:
- A private detective or private investigator licensed under Chapter 74C of the General Statutes, provided that (i) the tracking is pursuant to authority under G.S. 74C-3(a)(8), (ii) the tracking is not otherwise contrary to law, and (iii) the person being tracked is not under the protection of a domestic violence protective order under Chapter 50B of the General Statutes or any other court order that protects against assault, threat, harassment, following, or contact.
In case you’re not aware of Chapter 74C of the General Statutes, here it is:
(8) Private detective or private investigator. – Any person who engages in the profession of or accepts employment to furnish, agrees to make, or makes inquiries or investigations concerning any of the following on a contractual basis: a. Crimes or wrongs done or threatened against the United States or any state or territory of the United States. b. The identity, habits, conduct, business, occupation, honesty, integrity, credibility, knowledge, trustworthiness, efficiency, loyalty, activity, movement, whereabouts, affiliations, associations, transactions, acts, reputation, or character of any person. c. The location, disposition, or recovery of lost or stolen property. d. The cause or responsibility for fires, libels, losses, accidents, damages, or injuries to persons or to properties. e. Securing evidence to be used before any court, board, officer, or investigative committee. f. Protection of individuals from serious bodily harm or death.
This is big news for the private investigator business. The bill is designed to protect investigators who are acting in accordance with their authority by law. This bill, should it become law, will allow a private investigator to use a GPS tracking device to investigate the activity, movement, whereabouts, acts of any person, or for the location or recovery of lost or stolen property when in a contractual basis to furnish such information.
Will this allow private investigators to place a GPS tracker on any vehicle they want as long as they are working a contract agreement with a third party? Based on the current language, that would appear so, as long as it is not otherwise contrary to law and the person being tracked is not protected by a domestic violence protection order or any other court protection order.
Many private investigation companies have company policies regarding the placement of GPS trackers as it is. Some prevent their investigators from placing a tracker on a vehicle unless the person requesting such placement meets one of the following criteria:
1) Is the owner of the vehicle or has equal ownership of the vehicle such as a vehicle that is considered marital property,
2) The vehicle is a fleet vehicle for a business and the person is an agent within the business that is authorized to place a tracker,
3) The person is the parent of the minor wishing to be tracked,
4) The person is the legal guardian of an individual to be tracked who is incapacitated or disabled.
If signed into law, this bill could change the way some investigators use GPS trackers in their investigations. For the most part, this is good news for private investigators and their clients, as it gives PIs more options.
But even though the bill doesn’t seem to explicitly prevent private investigators from placing a tracker on any vehicle they want (as long as they are doing so under contract), I would be wary of freely doing so — you might find yourself as the defendant in a suit or criminal charge, which could cause this bill to be challenged and changed.
A version of this article previously appeared on the Gumshoe Group blog.
About the Author:
Chris Wagner is a former law enforcement officer with the Raleigh Police Department in Raleigh N.C. After 8 years on the force, he resigned to pursue a career in private investigations and opened his own firm, The Gumshoe Group Corporation. You can follow him on Twitter @GumshoeRaleigh, like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thegumshoegroup, or reach via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.