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GPS Tracking In California. Is it Legal?

We take a brief look at the law and take away an understanding of whether you can buy and use a GPS tracker in California.

What Is GPS Tracking?

GPS or Global Positioning Satellites is a method used to electronically locate a person, place or thing utilizing satellites and a device that receives the signal from the satellite. Often, these devices are very small and easily concealable.

How Is GPS Tracking Used In California?

GPS tracking is used in many ways. Often it is used to manage and monitor fleet vehicles, say in a company's business car fleet. GPS can be used to track a person, in most cases you need consent if they are an adult, but some place GPS trackers in their children’s backpacks or other items in order to ensure they know where they are for safety.

How Do Private Investigators Use GPS Trackers in California?

Private investigators, may, at times, use GPS tracking as long as it is done lawfully. What does this mean? There are laws in place in California that particularly govern the use of a GPS tracker that is used to track a person and their whereabouts. Should we do any GPS tracking, we do so lawfully and it is usually to track an asset to ensure it is being used properly.

Companies hire us to investigate employees using company cars. Employees are told that the vehicle may be tracked and therefore that notice plus the fact that the car belongs to the company, ensures legal compliance with California Penal Code.

California Penal Code 637.7 on GPS Tracking

California has a specific law found in California Penal Code 637.7. Read the Penal Code below:

(a) No person or entity in this state shall use an electronic tracking device to determine the location or movement of a person.

(b) This section shall not apply when the registered owner, lessor, or lessee of a vehicle has consented to the use of the electronic tracking device with respect to that vehicle.

(c) This section shall not apply to the lawful use of an electronic tracking device by a law enforcement agency.

(d) As used in this section, “electronic tracking device” means any device attached to a vehicle or other movable thing that reveals its location or movement by the transmission of electronic signals.

(e) A violation of this section is a misdemeanor.

(f) A violation of this section by a person, business, firm, company, association, partnership, or corporation licensed under Division 3 (commencing with Section 5000) of the Business and Professions Code shall constitute grounds for revocation of the license issued to that person, business, firm, company, association, partnership, or corporation, pursuant to the provisions that provide for the revocation of the license as set forth in Division 3 (commencing with Section 5000) of the Business and Professions Code .

(Links click to Westlaw)

As we can see, it is is only legal in Paragraph (B) in California Penal Code 637.7. Under these circumstances it may be legal to track a California registered motor vehicle.

Paragraph (F) partly applies to Private Investigators. We are governed by the California Business and Professions Code. So, in the State of California, a licensed Private Investigator must follow the same rules or have our license revoked.

Is It Legal to Purchase a GPS Tracker?

Yes. It is legal to purchase a GPS tracking unit. It is incumbent on the user to know whether they are using it legally or not. You can always consult with a lawyer to get the facts, and this information we provide is not meant to direct you in any fashion. User beware is how we see it. Follow the laws!

GPS tracking device Spade & Archer
GPS tracking devices are made all over the world and are commonly used in conjunction with a mobile app

The Lies and Misdirection

Websites wanting to sell you a GPS tracker often do not site Paragraph’s (A) to (E) so that they entice one into believing that they can use it legally and point to the gray areas. Yes, there are gray areas, but they won’t be so gray if they go to court. The will cost you the color or money. So be wise in using a GPS tracking device.

Should you have any questions about GPS Tracking, please reach out to us so that we can provide you a case by case basis on legal uses of GPS tracking. Please call nationwide (707) 908-8226.


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