GPS Devices For Spying in Tennessee Divorces


Use of GPS tracking devices can be illegal in Tennessee.

GPS Tracking Devices For Spying in Tennessee Divorces

GPS Tracking Devices For Spying in Tennessee Divorces

Tennessee GPS Use Law

According to Tennessee law, it’s probably illegal for someone to put a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device on a car without the consent of all owners (emphasis on all) for the purposes of tracking others. It’s legal for a manufacturer to install it on a car, and it’s legal for the police or the courts to put a tracking device on a car if they’re carrying out a criminal investigation.

It’s okay for parents to put a tracking device on a car for the purposes of monitoring their children’s driving behavior without the children knowing it. It’s also legal for someone to install a tracking device on a car for the purposes of locating it if it’s ever stolen. Notice that in these cases, however, the law is concerned with intentions—of tracking young drivers, of recovering a car, and so on.

It comes down to this: the owner of a car can install an after-market tracking device, but in the case where two people own a car jointly, it’s illegal for one to install a tracking device without the consent of the other  for the purposes of tracking anyone using the car. You can see that “intent” enters into the equation here as well, and that can be a tough nut to crack in a divorce case. The court might assume that if GPS data figures in the divorce case, the device was probably installed for tracking purposes and would want others to convince it otherwise.

So, in Tennessee and a few other states, if it’s not your car, you can’t install a tracking device. Installing such a device might require the services of a technician, and the technician might demand proof of ownership.

In other states. however, it’s legal to put what is called a “slap and go” GPS tracking device on someone else’s car if it’s done in a public place, such as a street rather than someone’s garage, if the installation is not permanent, if it does not require electricity from the car, and some other caveats.

Basically, two types of GPS systems can be attached to an automobile. “Loggers” store data that can be retrieved at a later time, while “real-time” trackers broadcast this information just as a cell phone does. Some rely on batteries, so those have to be replaced, while others are hard-wired to the car’s battery, so will keep on going.

What if a tracking system such as OnStar or LoJack is already installed in the car?

That would fall under the “manufacturer” exclusion in the law above. They can legally sell a car with OnStar and such, and the courts would probably hold that the all the owners knew or should have known about this.

What about activating GPS on a cell phone without a spouse’s knowledge or permission?

If it’s the spouse’s phone, or even one you bought for a spouse, it’s illegal. The courts would look upon this as an invasion of privacy, particularly if the phone was protected with a PIN or a password, which would be good evidence that the spouse expected privacy. It’s a tug-of-war between divorce law and privacy law here, but even if you are not guilty of violating wiretapping laws, you could be found guilty of invading another’s privacy, and the evidence you’ve uncovered might be ruled inadmissible.

Remember these three important reasons never to try electronic eavesdropping—breaking into someone’s email account, installing spyware, or any other type of electronic snooping:

First and most important, you could find yourself charged with a felony.

Second, even if a judge rules that you did not break the law, any evidence you obtained through electronic snooping could be inadmissible because of the way you got it.

Third, a judge could look upon your snooping as worse behavior than the  behavior you were trying to expose in the first place. This could lead the judge to doubt your credibility on other matters in the case and could “tip” matters to the benefit of the other side.

If a computer contains information that’s critical to your case, there are legal ways of obtaining it, and there are illegal ways that could end you up in jail.

Contacting an attorney before doing any such snooping could be the smartest thing you could do before you do something you end up regretting for a long time. An experienced family law attorney can advise you of your rights and responsibilities and the “electronic snooping” pitfalls you can avoid—ahead of time.

Such an attorney can advise you on hiring an ethical, knowledgeable, and experienced private investigator, computer expert, GPS installer, and so on. You should never hire one yourself without your lawyer’s advice, because anyone who breaks any “snooping” laws on your behalf could get you into just as much trouble as if you had done the snooping yourself. On the other hand, if an investigator or computer forensics expert is working under your lawyer’s supervision and direction, this could give you some protection against being charged with breaking the law.

Tennessee Code Annotated Section 39-13-606—Electronic tracking of motor vehicles (as of 2012) reads, as follows:

(a) (1) Except as provided in subsection (b), it is an offense for a person to knowingly install, conceal or otherwise place an electronic tracking device in or on a motor vehicle without the consent of all owners of such vehicle for the purpose of monitoring or following an occupant or occupants of such vehicle.

(2) As used in this section, “person” does not include the manufacturer of the motor vehicle.

(b) (1) It shall not be a violation if the installing, concealing or placing of an electronic tracking device in or on a motor vehicle is by, or at the direction of, a law enforcement officer in furtherance of a criminal investigation and is carried out in accordance with applicable state and federal law.

(2) If the installing, concealing or placing of an electronic tracking device in or on a motor vehicle is by, or at the direction of, a parent or legal guardian who owns or leases such vehicle, and if such device is used solely for the purpose of monitoring the minor child of such parent or legal guardian when such child is an occupant of such vehicle, then the installation, concealment or placement of such device in or on such vehicle without the consent of any or all occupants in such vehicle shall not be a violation.

(3) It shall also not be a violation of this section if the installing, concealing or placing of an electronic tracking device in or on a motor vehicle is for the purpose of tracking the location of stolen goods being transported in such vehicle or for the purpose of tracking the location of such vehicle if it is stolen.

(c)  The provisions of this section shall not apply to a tracking system installed by the manufacturer of a motor vehicle.

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About 

Memphis divorce attorney and family lawyer, Miles Mason, Sr. JD, CPA founded the Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC. The firm practices divorce and family law only representing clients living in Memphis, Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Eads, Shelby Co., Fayette Co. Tipton Co., and the surrounding west Tennessee area. For more information, see our Meet the Team page.

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