Monday, July 11, 2011

NJ Judge Says Using GPS To Track Spouse Is Not An Invasion Of Privacy

DannyB was the first of a few of you to send in this story about a NJ court ruling that said a wife putting a GPS device in her husband's car, in order to help investigators she had hired to tell her if he was cheating on her, was not an invasion of his privacy.
“There is no direct evidence in this record to establish that during the approximately 40 days the GPS was in the ... glove compartment the device captured a movement of plaintiff into a secluded location that was not in public view, and, if so, that such information was passed along by Mrs. Villanova to (Leonard),”
Venkat Balasubramani has an excellent analysis of the ruling and notes some of the oddities in it. The one that struck me in particular was the fact that the court didn't seem to pay much attention to the fact that the car was jointly owned by the couple, which you would think would lend even more credence to the idea that she had the right to put a GPS device on the car:
There was an interesting fact that didn't receive as much as attention as I thought it should: the car was jointly owned. I'm surprised the court did not discuss the fact that since the wife owned the car, she could have argued that she had the right to track its movements. (On a related note, the plaintiff, who was a police office, tried to argue that he used the car for law enforcement purposes once in awhile, but the court is extremely skeptical of this argument.) Another fact that the court did not focus on directly is whether the result would have been different if the investigative firm (rather than the wife) was the one who did the GPS tracking....

It was also interesting that despite using a "reasonable expectation of privacy" standard, the court does not discuss the diminished expectation of privacy for the husband vis a vis his wife . . . who is trying to investigate him for having an affair. I'm not suggesting that spouses waive their privacy rights with respect to one another, but if you're having an affair, is it not reasonable to expect that your spouse may be checking up on you?
I'll admit that I'm not nearly as troubled as I am by similar stories involving police putting GPS devices on cars. In these types of cases, there do seem to be plenty of additional reasons why such GPS tracking is not nearly as egregious. I'm sure putting a tracking device on your spouse (or in their vehicles) may serve as a perfectly good reason for a divorce, but as a legal matter? Seems like a stretch.

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