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Can I put an electronic tracking device on the vehicle my spouse drives?

Like most legal questions, there is not a simple “yes” or “no” answer to whether you can put an electronic tracking device on the vehicle driven by your spouse. The answer depends on a number of factors, including who is putting the electronic tracking device on the vehicle, who owns (or leases) the vehicle, and whether there is a court order protecting your spouse against assault, threats, harassment, following, or contact.

1. What is an “electronic tracking device”?

North Carolina General Statute §14-196.3(a)(1) defines an “electronic tracking device” as “[a]n electronic or mechanical device that permits a person to remotely determine or track the position and movement of another person”. An example of an “electronic tracking device” could a GPS tracker or even an Iphone.

2. Can I put an electronic tracking device on a vehicle that is titled in my name that my spouse drives?

The act of putting an electronic tracking device on a vehicle titled in your name is not illegal in and of itself. Depending on the circumstances, this behavior could be viewed as stalking or harassment. If there are any domestic violence issues or any concerns that your spouse will accuse you of stalking or harassment, it is important that you consult with an attorney prior to placing an electronic tracking device on the vehicle driven by your spouse, even if that vehicle is titled in your name.

3. Can I put an electronic tracking device on a vehicle driven by my spouse that is not titled in my name for the purpose of tracking my spouse’s whereabouts?

No, you cannot put an electronic tracking device on a vehicle driven by your spouse if that vehicle is not titled in your name. North Carolina’s Cyberstalking statute, found in North Carolina General Statute §14-196.3(b)(5), specifically prohibits a person from installing, placing, or using an electronic tracking device to track the location of a person without his or her consent. One exception to this rule is if the vehicle is titled or leased in your name. However, if the vehicle is not titled or leased in your name, then you should not place an electronic tracking device on a vehicle driven by your spouse.

4. Can I hire a private investigator to place an electronic tracking device on the vehicle my spouse drives if that vehicle is titled or leased in my name?

You can hire a private detective or private investigator to place an electronic tracking device on a vehicle titled or leased in your name that your spouse drives for the purpose of tracking your spouse’s whereabouts as long as: (1) the private investigator is licensed under Chapter 74C of the North Carolina General Statutes; and (2) you do NOT have a court order against you which protects your spouse against assault, threats, harassment, following, or contact. If you have a court order against you which protects your spouse against assault, threats, harassment, following, or contact, such as a domestic violence restraining order, then you cannot have anyone, not even a private investigator, to place an electronic tracking device on the vehicle.

5. My spouse had a domestic violence order entered against me. Can I hire a private detective or private investigator to place an electronic tracking device on the vehicle my spouse drives?

NO. According to North Carolina General Statute §14-196.3(5), if your spouse has a domestic violence protective order against you pursuant to Chapter 50B of the North Carolina General Statutes, or if your spouse has a court order entered against you which orders you not to assault, threaten, harass, follow, or contact your spouse, then a private investigator cannot place an electronic tracking device on the vehicle driven by your spouse, even if the vehicle is titled in your name.

6. Can I hire a licensed private investigator to place an electronic tracking device on the vehicle my spouse drives if my name is not listed as the owner or lessee on the vehicle?

MAYBE. As long as you do NOT have a court order against you which protects your spouse against assault, threats, harassment, following, or contact, then pursuant to North Carolina General Statute §14-196.3(k), a private detective or investigator licensed under Chapter 74C may place an electronic tracking device on the vehicle your spouse drives as long as “the tracking is not otherwise contrary to law”. However, this law is relatively new in North Carolina and has yet to be tested in our appellate courts. It is possible that the appellate courts in North Carolina may ultimately determine that it is unlawful for a private detective or private investigator to place an electronic tracking device on a vehicle that is not titled or leased in that person’s name. This area of the law is unsettled, and you should speak with your attorney for advice prior to hiring a private detective or private investigator to place an electronic tracking device on any vehicle driven by your spouse, but especially, if that vehicle is not titled or leased in your name.

7. Is it illegal for me to track the location of my child with one of these devices?

North Carolina General Statute §14-196.3(k) carves out an exception for using tracking devices for the purposes of tracking the location of your child. Specifically, a parent or legal guardian of a minor may track the child’s location unless the parent or legal guardian is subject to a domestic violence protective order under Chapter 50B of the General Statutes or any court order that orders the parent or legal guardian not to assault, threaten, harass, follow, or contact that minor or that minor’s parent, legal guardian, custodian, or caretaker. However, you should consult with an attorney before using any such device to track your child, especially if custody is an issue in your case.

It is important that you understand the legal ramifications of using tracking devices to track your spouse or your child, and you should always consult with an attorney before taking any steps to use such devices to track your spouse or your child.

The material in this blog is not intended, nor should it be construed or relied upon, as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney if specific legal information is needed.

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