Can GPS Trackers Be Used In Covert Surveillance?

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The purpose of this article is to explain how laws in Japan and the US affect the use of GPS trackers (including AirTags and so on) without the consent of the target individual. State laws vary from state to state in the United States. We will discuss some typical incidents reported in the news regarding US laws.

Nevada Litigation Over GPS Tracker

A news article reported that a mayor in Nevada state sued a US PI because he installed a GPS tracking device on the mayor’s vehicle.

The PI who used GPS trackers to monitor Reno Mayor and others in Nevada was not arrested for trespassing or infringement of privacy. It’s legal to use a GPS tracker to monitor the movement of a person or an object in Nevada.

Nevada Mayor Sues PI Over GPS Tracker

Hillary Schieve, the Reno Mayor in Nevada state, filed a lawsuit against private investigator David McNeely and 5 Alpha Industries on Dec. 15, alleging that McNeely installed a GPS tracking device on her private vehicle and used it to photograph and surveil her.

In a statement, Schieve’s attorneys explained that the device was discovered at a car repair shop. In November 2022, Schieve was re-elected as Reno’s mayor for a third term. GPS trackers were also used to spy on her community members.

In the lawsuit, damages of at least US$15,000 are sought.

It is expected that her attorney will continue to conduct an aggressive search for those who hired the private investigator.


Reno Mayor Sues Private Investigator After Discovering Tracking Device Installed on Her Vehicle

GPS Regulation Laws In Different States

Most states in the United States prohibit the installation of GPS tracking devices without authorization. The following are some examples of this type of situation.


GPS tracking devices cannot be used by someone who is not the registered owner, lessor, or lessee of the vehicle to determine a person’s location. However, law enforcement agencies are permitted to use electronic power steering devices.


Using a GPS tracker to harass, annoy, or alarm another individual is considered stalking.


The use of any electronic communication device to track or threaten anyone can result in imprisonment for more than five years and a fine of $1,000.


A person who places a tracking device on someone else’s vehicle without permission will be considered a stalker. And they will face one-year imprisonment and a fine of $1,000.


Nevada state revised statute 179.451 permits the use of a tracking device to track the movement of a person or object.

New York

Using an electronic tracking device to determine the location without authorization is illegal in New York.


GPS Laws Of Different States

GPS Regulation Laws In Japan

GPS devices are prohibited from being used unauthorized in Japan under certain conditions.

Stalking Law

The Stalking Law was amended in August 2021 to prohibit using GPS devices without the victim’s consent.

The Japanese Stalking Law, however, defines stalking as following someone with feelings of love or affection or with feelings of resentment when these feelings are not satisfied. Therefore, stalking does not constitute a STALKING act if the stalker does not intend to satisfy romantic feelings.

In other words, even if GPS is used unauthorized, the Stalking Law will not apply if the purpose is not to satisfy romantic feelings.

Nuisance Prevention Ordinance

In October 2022, the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance for the Prevention of Nuisance Activities was revised to prohibit the unsolicited use of GPS devices for malicious motives (harassment) other than romantic ones.

Saitama, Kanagawa, Osaka, and other prefectures have also made similar amendments. All prefectures are expected to follow this trend of revision in the future.

Trespass to Buildings

It is trespassing to install a GPS device on a vehicle in a parking lot or garage without permission.

It is not trespassing if the GPS device is installed while the subject’s vehicle is parked on a public street.

Destruction of property

If GPS devices are placed under the floor of a vehicle with a magnet, they can cause minute scratches. Although it may not be apparent that a scratch has been made under the floor of the car, the police may still be able to take advantage of the situation and arrest the user for destroying property.

Breach Of Contract For Equipment

If the GPS device is rented from a telecommunications company, unauthorized use may constitute a breach of contract. The subscriber may have registered with the telecommunications company the purpose for which the device is to be used or pledged not to use it for any purposes that violate other’s privacy.

Using a rented GPS device to monitor the activities of a third party is a violation of the contract between the customer and the telecommunications provider. Police will encourage the telecommunications company to prosecute the subscriber for using an unauthorized GPS device.

In this case, the contractor will be charged with unauthorized GPS use.

Unsolicited Use Of GPS Devices By Private Detectives

The Stalking Law prohibits using GPS devices for romantic purposes, and the Ordinance on Prevention of Unwanted Activities prohibits using GPS devices for harassment.

However, PI’s activities have nothing to do with romance or harassment because they work based on the client’s request.

You may not be prosecuted for the unauthorized use of a GPS device unless you are trespassing and using rental equipment from a telecommunications company. It is something that is in the gray area.

It is possible, however, for a subject to file a civil lawsuit if an unauthorized use of a GPS device is discovered.


It is generally prohibited in Japan and many states in the United States to use GPS devices without permission.

The use of GPS devices without permission is permitted in some states in the United States, while it is prohibited in others.

According to Japanese law, stalking is defined as the uninvited following of a person with romantic feelings. Using GPS trackers unauthorized is punishable under stalker law if it relates to romantic feelings. Furthermore, using a GPS device for harassment is punishable under the Nuisance Prevention Ordinance. In addition, you are guilty of trespassing if you enter someone’s property when installing a GPS device.

On the other hand, using GPS devices by private detectives without authorization is not prohibited by Japanese laws so far. However, it is not recommended. The PI will be in hot water if the GPS tracker is discovered. A private investigator may work with a stalker with romantic feelings or a malignant individual with malicious intentions. The PI will be punished as an accomplice of a criminal in such a case.

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