Technological developments in vehicle tracking devices in recent years have made GPS tracking systems both affordable and portable. These days, pretty much anyone can install a vehicle tracking system in their car, which has extended the usage of tracking systems beyond fleet management to personal tracking. You can now get tiny GPS devices to help you track your possessions, pets and even small children, as a protective measure.
Using a tracking system to keep your belongings safe, or to safeguard a toddler or elderly relative (with their permission) is one thing – but what does the law say about tracking a person without their knowledge?
There are a number of devices that specifically market themselves to suspicious husbands and wives, who suspect their partner of having an affair, but it’s been highlighted that such devices might offer greater ability for abusive partners to control their victim. At what point does such surveillance cross the line into harassment, stalking, or abuse?
There are plenty of DIY GPS tracking systems available on the market for as little as £50, which is cheaper than hiring a private investigator who might charge from £500 to £1000 a day. In fact, some private investigation agencies now offer installing these devices as a service.
Which brings us to this question: Is this actually considered legal here in the UK?
The Right to Privacy
Because the UK has no written constitution, there is no US-style Bill of Rights that would have named the specific rights its citizens have. As it stands, there’s no express right to privacy under British law and consequently, no civil action which is available for breach of privacy. This, however, doesn’t mean you can go around installing tracking systems on unsuspecting members of your family. There are, after all, certain rights that relate to privacy.
The European Convention on Human Rights
There is, for instance, the Human Rights Act 1998 which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. Article 8 of the Convention sets the right to respect for a person’s ‘private and family life, his home and his correspondence’. The article further declares that interference in this right can only be allowed in accordance with the law, and in the interest of national security, public safety, crime prevention, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. In other words, only public authorities, such as the police and intelligence agents, are allowed to access people’s private information and they would have to prove that they’re doing so in the interest of the British public.
Data Protection Act 1998
The Data Protection Act is another piece of legislation that’s crucial to the legality of tracking your spouse’s or child’s car. According to this legislation, you can gather someone’s personal data only if you have their explicit permission to do so. As with Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights, only public authorities are exempt from this law if they can justify the need for gathering personal information without their subject’s knowledge and permission.
Installing a covert GPS tracker in your spouse’s or child’s vehicle in order to mine information on their whereabouts is considered a violation of this Act.
So far, no private citizen has been taken to court for using a vehicle tracking device on their spouse or child. Legal experts agree that it is legal to install a vehicle tracking system in a car as long as you own it, and you can use it to track members of your family with their permission. Most experts say using a GPS system to secretly track a family member is illegal, and your ‘subject’ would be within their rights to have you arrested for breach of the peace at the very least, as discovering that they’re being spied on could cause them distress and fear.
What can you do if you’re worried that your spouse is cheating on you, or that your child is engaged in dangerous activities? Talk to them about it.
If talking doesn’t allay your fears, then going to a private investigator will keep you on the right side of the law. All private investigators in the UK are now required to get a licence from the Security Industry Authority after completing a training course and passing a criminal check.
This means you can be assured that the detective you hire will not resort to law-breaking activities to get you the information you need. If you do decide to hire a private detective, check their registration and their DPA number, which should indicate that they’re allowed to gather personal data on certain subjects, although the type and amount of data they can gather will still fall within the boundaries set by the Data Protection Act.
Vehicle Tracking Law for Fleets
Privacy laws are interpreted differently when vehicle trackers are used in fleets where the company owns the vehicle, and the vehicle is designated for business use. See our in depth article – Company vehicle tracking and the law for more information on this.