Judges Say It’s Okay To Use GPS To Track a Cheating Spouse
Next year, the Supreme Court will be deciding whether it’s okay for law enforcement to put a GPS tracking device on someone’s car without a warrant. Some courts say yes and some courts say no. If it’s not the po-po tracking you, though, but a spouse who suspects you might be cheating, a New Jersey court says, “Go for it.”
A New Jersey woman hired a private investigator to follow her husband to find out whether he was straying. Her husband, Kenneth Villanova, a Gloucester County sheriff’s officer, kept managing to lose the investigator [*insert high speed car chases here*]. So the investigator, Richard Leonard, advised his client to put a tracking device in her husband’s car, reports the Star-Ledger. She put it in the glove compartment of their jointly-owned GMC Yukon. Within two weeks, it revealed Villanova’s car sitting in the driveway of a woman who was not his wife. Oh, the bittersweet pleasure of catching a partner in the act.
Villanova was not pleased. He sued his wife and Leonard for invasion of privacy. My married colleague Matt Herper has (jokingly) remarked to me before that there is no privacy in marriage. Asked to clarify, Herper says: “There’s no presumption of privacy, or right to it. If invading a spouse’s privacy is an offense, it’s probably a smaller one than expecting to keep very many secrets.”
The judges came to the same conclusion, but with slightly different reasoning:
Villanova claimed the tracking device invaded his privacy and caused him ”substantial and permanent emotional distress,” though the appellate judges noted he sought no medical treatment or advice.Appellate Judge [sic] Joseph Lisa, Jack Sabatino and Carmen Alvarez said Villanova had no right to expect privacy because the GPS tracked his movements on public streets.“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),” Lisa wrote.
The Star-Ledger says this opens the door for private investigators to use trackers in all kinds of cases: “GPS doesn’t just track cheating spouses. Private investigators use it to keep tabs on the subjects of insurance fraud investigations, background checks and child custody cases.”
But a significant part of this case is that Villanova’s wife put the tracker in the car, not the private investigator. That means your privacy in the context of strangers tracking you might still be safe — just not from friends and family. But does that really come as a surprise?