#12 Thoughts on GPS devices for Private Investigators


I don’t know whether this post is a Private Investigator Tip, or just my thoughts.  I don’t like just reporting news that can be found anywhere.  I like to add my thoughts and perspective into it as well.  So with that being said, my thoughts are below.

GPS devices have been a hot topic recently with the Supreme Court ruling that police need a warrant to use a GPS device.  However if you have read my blog article about iPhone applications and the GPS functions of two applications, you can see that the writing is on the wall with GPS devices. More and more applications will be created using the GPS function in phones and more regulation will likely be created as a result. This topic will be revisited in the near future and I am sure will affect the private investigation community eventually.  The ruling by the Supreme Court appears to be a bump in the road for law enforcement at the moment.  I don’t know the exact impact it has on law enforcement but I am happy it does not prevent them from using the device all together.


I spoke to a law enforcement officer regarding the recently ruling and asked whether it affected his police department.  He informed me that his department used GPS devices frequently.  He went on to say that he did not use a GPS device in the course of his job however felt the decision did not affect those that did use the device in a significant manner.  His response was a bit unexpected as I had not imagined law enforcement using it as much as Federal Agencies would use them.

I can understand the importance of GPS devices for law enforcement.  When wanting to know the whereabouts of a subject, what better way to save resources and tax payer money then to use a GPS device.  A GPS device used on an investigation could significant decrease the man power needed during a specific investigation.  911 call centers have the capability of locating where a call is being made from through the GPS function in your cell phone and as of two years ago was surprising accurate.

Donald Melanson of Engaget.com writes,

“There’s still no real indication of when you’ll be able to send text messages, photos and videos to 911, but the FCC has now set a date for another promised enhancement to the service. The agency is aiming to increase the service’s location accuracy requirements, and to that end it wants all cell phones and VoIP devices to be GPS-capable by 2018 (A-GPS, specifically). As the FCC notes, it expects 85 percent of all cell phones to have built-in GPS by that point anyway, which it says should “contribute to minimizing subsequent costs” required to meet the cut-off — it’s not, however, adopting a specific sunset date just yet.”


I encourage my wife to use the GPS function’s on my phone to determine where I am during the day.  Sometimes the life of a private investigator is unsafe.  Traveling through different areas of the country for extended periods of time can be unsafe as well.   If something where to happen to me while driving home from a case, I would want my wife to be able to find me or at least inform the authorities of my location.


Private investigators that use GPS devices during infidelity investigations know it is an asset that is irreplaceable.  It is my hope that the GPS laws don’t bleed over and affect our industry.  I believe that if used in a responsible manner it tremendous asset to have.

I do believe that this recent judgment is just one of many to come regarding the use GPS devices.  I would be interested in any comments on this subject and how you think it will eventually affect the private investigation industry.

On a side note I can say that I have not used GPS devices during the course of an investigation as most of my surveillance experience has been focused on insurance and claims investigations.  A close associate of mine has used the device quite a bit for domestic investigations.  The device that he personally uses was purchased for approximately $400.00.  He has the device adjusted for his personal preference (in regards to alerts of movement) and purchases a monthly plan through a provider that allows him to use a website to track his devices in real time.  He charges a daily rate for the device to remain on vehicles including his investigation rate.

I will speak more about recommended devices in a future post.

Source: http://www.engadget.com/2011/08/11/fcc-details-plans-to-bring-texting-photos-and-video-to-911-serv/