SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — House Bill 223, sponsored by Rep. Marie Poulson of Salt Lake, would make it a class A misdemeanor for a private investigator or a person to install a GPS tracking device on the vehicle of another person without their consent.
“I was shocked to learn there is no law prohibiting this in Utah,” said Poulson.
Cottonwood Heights Police Department Lt. Dan Bartlett said he’s seen a couple cases where victims of domestic violence were further traumatized when they discovered private investigators were tracking their cars with GPS devices installed without their knowledge.
Bartlett said that interferes with the work of officers who are trying to protect victims. If officers need a warrant to do surveillance on someone, Bartlett said it makes no sense that private investigators can do it without permission or consequence.
“We don’t think that’s right for privacy or protecting victims,” he said.
Mindy, a Utah woman, said she felt violated when, in 2011, she discovered her husband hired a PI who installed a tracking device on her vehicle. She was already afraid of her ex-husband after he broke into her house.
She filed a stalking injunction, then a friend told her what her ex was up to.
“I felt violated,” she said of discovering the device.
Public court documents support her story and show her ex pleaded guilty to domestic violence.
Private investigators oppose HB 223.
Chris Bertram, a retired police officer and member of the Private Investigators Association of Utah, is the owner of a long-time private investigation business started by his father. He said the proposed law is a “solution looking for a problem.”
Bertram said private investigators are highly vetted and operate under the watch of the Department of Public Safety. He said investigators often use GPS trackers to track victims who want to know whether a perpetrator is following them.
“We can give the victim peace of mind,” he said.
Plus, he said, it’s more affordable for victims to hire a PI who uses a GPS tracker to follow a perpetrator. Having an investigator physically follow someone would cost over $100 per hour for surveillance that may turn up no information useful to the client.
John Tinsley, a Utah private investigator of 10 years, said while he uses GPS to help clients, he would never provide a client with real-time information about the whereabouts of the person under surveillance — and most PIs wouldn’t.
“It’s just a tool, but it’s much less invasive than someone following you 24-7 for month,” he said.
Tinsley said his agency has helped people who’ve been falsely accused of stalking. He’s also helped custodial grandparents who want to keep their grandkids from parents who are dangerous.
Poulson said 19 other states have adopted laws similar to HB 223.
The bill has been approved in the House and now will seek approval in the Utah Senate.