Mobile Forensic Idea

Can a Private Investigator track your phone?

There are all types of various private investigator tools that can help track information, including cell phone spyware. These tools may help private investigators monitor a target’s activity. However, using such programs may not always be legal.


Cell phone tracking is a popular request for internet investigation services and as real-world private investigation assignments. There are many technologies available to track the use of a cell phone. However, these technologies are often limited in application by the law or may rely on intimate access to the particular phone in question.


This essay examines methods of tracing cell phone use anywhere in the world and tracking the location of the person who is carrying the phone.


When appropriate for the circumstances, we will often recommend GPS tracking to our clients. Without fail, the most common response to this suggestion is some version of,

“Is that legal?”


The quick answer is usually, “Yes. Under these circumstances, it is.” If I weren’t as polite and reserved as I am, I would add, “I’m a police lieutenant with 25 years on the job. Do you really think I’m going to jeopardize my career by doing something illegal for you?”


“Is GPS tracking illegal?” is an excellent question to hear out of a prospective client, because it indicates to me that they are interested in staying on the right side of the law…and that is a place where I intend on staying. The fact is, there are many circumstances where GPS tracking is clearly not legal. At the same time, there are several situations where putting a GPS tracker on a vehicle is permissible under the law. The laws regarding GPS tracking are complicated (and grey in some instances). The answer to the question usually can’t be given until we get answers to questions of our own (Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?). And then the answer will usually be preceded by if, unless, as long as, or it depends on. 


I’m going to go over the questions we ask a client before we ever put a GPS tracker on someone’s vehicle as part of a case and then I’m going to give you some examples of when it might be okay for you to put a GPS tracker on a car when you might want to hire a licensed P.I. To do it and some other situations where a GPS tracker would not be legal at all.


The internet is as deep as it is full. And we are just singular entities drifting across the surface, perhaps clinging to a piece of driftwood.


Underpinning us, keeping us afloat is the raw data we generate and consume so readily. If we are making the ocean, the driftwood is surely our user profile. Buoyancy aside, the data questions are real. I think that in 2016 a majority of internet users understand the adage “if you’re not paying for it, you are the product,” and how this very utterance keeps our favourite social media sites free at the point of consumption.


In 2016, databases moved everything around us (not cash, as Wu-Tang would have you believe). For the most part, there is very little to stop your personally-identifying information featuring in commercially available database products.


It isn’t that the P.I.’s have been stalking you, snapping you eating from the McDonald’s Dollar Menu. No, they’ve just got a hell of a lot better at collating publicly available information, as well receiving generous helping hands from so-called “data-fusion” businesses.


How hard do you think it would be to track you down? I’ll consider myself: extremely easy. I’m using public WiFi without a VPN, and I used my debit card to pay for the Eggs Benedict and coffee I just consumed, and regularly use public services (the library, etc.) using my full name and corresponding address. Other things: I’m registered to vote, my driving license carries the same address, and I leave my social media accounts logged in from time-to-time.


First of all, there are not any Federal laws that make GPS tracking illegal unless it is for law enforcement purposes (Law enforcement officers must always get a warrant to conduct GPS tracking). However, several states have implemented certain statewide restrictions on GPS tracking for non-law enforcement purposes. 

  • Most states have not specifically addressed the issue of GPS tracking. 
  • In some states, the issue has been specifically addressed, and they have passed laws allowing virtually no GPS tracking (except for law enforcement with a warrant). 
  • In other states, the issue has been addressed, and they’ve determined that GPS tracking is allowed, but that the person placing the tracker must be the registered owner of the vehicle on which the tracker is being placed. 
  •  In still other states, they have determined that GPS tracking is not allowed unless you either own the vehicle, or you have hired a licensed P.I. Who has a permissible purpose of placing the tracker on the car?


And then there is the issue of where the vehicle is when the tracker is installed on the car. This is mainly an issue of whether a private investigator is trespassing on private property when he installs or removes the tracker. Trespassing is defined in different ways in different jurisdictions. In most jurisdictions, one is not trespassing unless the property is either posted, “No Trespassing” or until the person has been told to leave the private property. There are other considerations also—for instance, a P.I. Wouldn’t enter a garage or a fenced-in area to install a tracker, however, if he had the permission of the owner of the property, this would be okay. 


The most commonplace that P.I.’s install trackers are when the subject is out and about in their vehicle. For instance, when the theme drives to the grocery store and parks his truck in the parking lot. As soon as the subject goes inside the store, the investigator might pull up next to the vehicle and install the tracker.


Nowadays, GPS technology is so standard that most mobile devices already have it integrated into them. While people now use GPS for everyday tasks like finding directions or tracking valuables, private investigators use GPS technology to save lives and track people down. In this article, let’s recognize the importance of GPS trackers to this profession.


For today’s private investigators, GPS trackers are an invaluable asset when it comes to surveillance. Not only does it provide concrete evidence, but GPS tracking devices are also safe, efficient, and cost-effective. Though the private investigation industry has a long-standing history, with private investigation businesses existing since the 1800s, the global positioning system (GPS) has only been around since 1973 and was initially invented for the military. And now, GPS has revolutionized the way that P.I.’s do business.


Private investigators are typically employed as detectives or undercover agents to gather and collect information that is vital to their clients. Being a private investigator can be arduous and tiresome as long hours of surveillance work, research, and accumulating critical information can be exhausting.


One of the most crucial duties of private investigators is surveillance. It is bread and butter work for P.I.’s working all kinds of different cases, from missing persons to insurance fraud, theft, and vandalism to determining if a parent is fit to have child custody and proving marital infidelity. It’s all about the close and detailed observation of a person, place, or thing to gather facts that can be used to build a case, whether this means watching a store that has been repeatedly burgled or watching a person who has an insurance claim in for a leg injury to see if they miraculously get up and start running around.


Surveillance often involves watching a person without them being aware to see where they go and what they are doing. Private investigators will then report findings back to the client. Private investigators learn some of the techniques of effective surveillance methods in criminal justice classes.

Mobile Forensic Idea

GPS in surveillance

In virtually every case, technology now plays a significant role in getting the job done by enhancing a P.I.’s ability to gather and document useful information.


In years past, surveillance would have to take place in person with a private eye watching from a distance, perhaps taking pictures or videos. Today, GPS trackers allow investigators to handle the job without the personal intrusion of waiting or following in person.



With society becoming fearful and more hostile, as evidenced by increasing gun violence, it’s no wonder that P.I.’s are opting to surveil from the office with the help of GPS tracking devices. It gives private investigators the safety that they need, as well as the information that they were hired to obtain.



Additionally, GPS devices give private investigators the ability to multitask and complete other tasks while still completing surveillance, therefore saving a lot of time. GPS devices can also be programmed only to activate and transmit a signal when at a targeted location.



Furthermore, GPS devices provide an economical alternative for surveillance. For example, in larger cities where traffic and other visible obstructions may be present, an individual hiring a private investigator may, in fact, need multiple investigators to be able to perform the surveillance. This would result in much higher fees than a daily or weekly rate for the monitoring of a GPS device.


Many people who are interested in using cellphone spyware do it because they are afraid that their spouse is cheating, or they otherwise want to spy on their romantic partner. Parents may use cellphone spyware to learn about who their child is talking to, what websites the child is accessing, what types of pictures the minor is sending and where the child is located. Companies that provide their employees with business cell phones may use this type of program to track employee movements, anticipate legal problems, monitor their use and anticipate possible problems. Our exclusive range of Australian Private Investigators will help you in many services, including executive, corporate, and celebrity protection; pre-employment verification; and individual background profiles.


Capabilities of Cellphone Spyware

Cellphone spyware may allow a person to monitor text messages. Typically, a person can delete text messages. Some cell phone providers do not keep a secondary record of such messages. Cellphone spyware may allow a third party to see the text messages sent and received from the phone that has the spyware installed on it. Additionally, the spyware may be able to show the date and time stamps for cell phone activity.

Cellphone spyware may also be able to monitor the call logs between the person who is using the phone and other parties, including the phone numbers, dates, times and duration of each call. Depending on the sophistication of the program, the spyware may be able to record voice calls in real-time.

Cellphone spyware may also be able to track the location of the phone in real-time. The third party that installed the spyware may be able to see where the phone is at any point in time on a map and see where the phone has been moved from. Cellphone spyware may also be able to track, monitor and record other data such as the websites that were visited on the phone, the emails that were sent and received on the phone and other data that is stored on the phone, such as photos, videos, calendar information and contacts.


The determination of cellphone spyware’s legality depends on some factors. Relevant considerations include why the spyware is being used, state law and ownership principles. Generally, a person must be the owner of the phone in order to install the cell phone legally. For example, a parent who buys the child’s phone and pays for its continued use is likely the listed owner of the phone. A company that buys employee phones may also be considered the owner of the phone. For married couples, all property purchased during the marriage is likely marital property, and the spouses are co-owners of the phone.


 However, if the phone was purchased prior to the marriage or according to an agreement by the parties, it may not be considered the property of the other spouse. Absent owning the phone, the person who wants to install the spyware must inform the person that he or she is installing the software and that this allows for monitoring. For example, a business may have to notify employees that cell phones may be monitored.


Another consideration is state laws about recorded conversations. Some states require informing both parties involved on a phone call that they are being registered for the recording to be legal. Looking for surveillance services? Look no further, Private Investigators has you covered.


Reasons for Mobile Phone Tracking

People cite a wide range of possible reasons for wanting to track a mobile phone geographically or by call data. Vehicle tracking and personal surveillance are much far more comfortable if an investigator can have a clear idea where a person’s cell phone is on a map. Virtually all modern mobile phones can become GPS transmitters, so following a person’s movements can be more comfortable than ever. GPS tracking is also essential for finding missing persons. GPS and phone record tracking are vital parts of infidelity investigations, as well. There are innumerable reasons for an investigator to want to use GPS technology to trace the physical location of a known mobile phone.


Personal tracking using a mobile phone is valuable for insurance investigations and workers compensation investigations, in which the subject may be working, despite reporting total disability.


Most methods of tracking a cell phone do not require any specialized equipment, other than a computer and an internet-ready phone. The target’s phone does all the work but typically has to be set up directly to act as a transmitter. This can be a big problem, legally and logistically, if access to their phone is off-limits. The best scenarios occur when the cell phone in question may belong to a partner or family member who volunteers to use the phone to track the target legally.


Once a phone is enabled as a transmitter, following the signal is super simple. While there have been specialized private investigation software programs available for GPS tracking for many years, now there are programs which let anyone become a skilled cell phone tracker for free. Many internet companies offer these services in conjunction with their mapping software.



Much of this topic goes back to “permissible purpose” and why the client wants tracking done. 

Only a handful of state courts have specifically addressed the issue of GPS tracking. As far as what the state courts have determined, it is generally okay to put a GPS on a vehicle that is registered to you.  In most cases, this would extend to a car listed in a spouse’s name, which would be considered “community property.” However, there are states where it is illegal for anyone to put a GPS tracker on anyone’s vehicle, including their own. 


The next question is whether the person wanting to install a tracker is the registered owner of the vehicle. This is only a factor if you are doing your GPS tracking in the handful of states that have determined it to be illegal for anyone, including P.I.’s to use GPS trackers in their jurisdictions (Of course, law enforcement can use GPS trackers in any state, as long as they have a court order).


In most states, a non-licensed P.I. Could put a tracker on his vehicle, or his wife’s car for that matter (unless protection or restraining order is in place against him). However, he would not be allowed to put a tracker on his girlfriend’s car (unless he actually owned the vehicle or it was registered to him). At the same time, in some states, he could legally hire a licensed private investigator to put a GPS tracker on his wife’s car or his girlfriend’s car, regardless of who owns the vehicle.


These tools are all part of the P.I.’s repertoire, but IDI have an alternative method of gentle coercion. They run two popular coupon websites, and If you sign up to one of these sites, you’re prompted to enter an email address, date of birth, and home address. This information immediately links you to your mediocre personal profile.


Check out our range of bug sweep services to detect surveillance equipment, spying devices and high-level interception to offices, cars, homes and conference centres.


Is It Worrying?

That depends on how you look at it and how you feel about data privacy in general. These databases exist, whether we like it or not. Our data is being correlated for use and correlated it shall remain. Whether dynamically updating information that might be used later is problematic is up to you — but you won’t get yourself removed from the big list.


Furthermore, unless you’re committing fraud, an act of terrorism, have gone missing (you’re still here, right?!), or engaging in other criminal activities, this information won’t be easily divulged. Similarly, if you’re cheating on your spouse/partner, you might find your credentials being itemized and issued as a report. But it all costs, and it certainly isn’t cheap. I’m unsure of the exact billing process in place for mediocre, but some other P.I. Database tools charge a subscription and sometimes for specific itemized searches.