A New Jersey appeals court recently ruled that straying spouses tracked by GPS does not constitute an invasion of their privacy.
County Sheriff's Officer Kenneth Villanova, sparked the debate when he sued his wife for invasion of privacy during their divorce proceedings, claiming the GPS invaded his right to privacy and caused him "substantial and permanent emotional distress."
Initially, the officer included private investigator, Richard Leonard, hired by Mrs. Villanova, but dropped his suit against the wife and pursued the private eye. Apparently Leonard recommended Mrs. Villanova buy the device after he was unable to tail the police officer on his own. Two weeks after the device was installed, Leonard caught the officer leaving a driveway with another woman.
Appellate Judges Joseph Lisa, Jack Sabatino and Carmen Alvarez said no direct evidence proved the GPS, installed in the plaintiff's glove compartment for 40 days before he noticed it, captured Villanova in any secluded places where he had a right to expect privacy. The device only tracked Villanova's movements on public streets, and that information was then passed on to Leonard via Villanova's wife, said Judge Lisa.
There are currently no state laws governing the use of GPS tracking devices. Villanova's suit was the first of its kind.
This ruling does not affect law enforcement officers, in June, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a lawsuit that will determine whether police need to obtain a warrant signed by a judge before installing GPS trackers on the citizen's vehicles.
Following an arrest and conviction on cocaine charges, Antoine Jones, a Washington, D.C. nightclub owner, argued that the warrantless use of the GPS device clearly violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed and tossed Jones' conviction in August 2010 "because it was obtained with evidence procured in violation of the Fourth Amendment."
Jones asserted that police used a GPS device to track his every move for at least a month prior to his arrest. The Amendment, which falls under the Bill of Rights, also requires law enforcement officers to have probable cause in order to secure search warrants. A ruling on the matter, which the Obama Administration disagrees with, is expected by October.