NPR recently published an alarming narrative about a newly divorced woman who became increasingly suspicious that her ex-husband was spying on her. She spent weeks noticing that he always seemed to know exactly where she was and when. Then, a mechanic found a GPS tracker on her car near her tire. In today’s digital era, spousal spying is easier than ever. In many cases, it’s also illegal.
There is a wide variety of tools people can use to spy on one another, and they’re often inexpensive. NPR explains that these privacy breaches can come from many angles:
“Digital spy tools like that GPS tracker are changing divorce as we know it. Increasingly, couples are turning to the latest technology to spy on each other as their marriages fall apart, according to dozens of divorce lawyers, investigators and even a leading family court judge whom NPR interviewed. Tools are cheap and easy to use — from something as simple as the Find My iPhone feature to spyware that can be installed in a spouse’s computer, phone, or even a car.”
As the article notes, the legality is messy in terms of spousal spying. Parents are usually permitted to put spyware on a child’s phone or other device. However, using tracking tech on a spouse or ex-spouse’s phone without their consent is generally illegal. In fact, people who engage in this activity can face a felony charge. There are a few exceptions, such as emergency situations, but spousal spying via phone interception is usually not OK.
With other devices, the penalties have historically been uneven and depend greatly on the specific details of each situation. In a 2012 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held that law enforcement’s use of GPS trackers to monitor a person falls under Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. For private individuals, however, laws involving GPS tracking remain murky and differ from state to state.
The problem is relatively widespread among divorced couples in the United States. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that an estimated 1.5 percent of people aged 18 or older are victims of stalking. The research found the highest percentage of stalking victims are those who were divorced or separated.
Get Help if You Might Be a Victim of Spousal Spying
Even if you’re not 100 percent sure your ex (or someone else) is tracking you, it’s critical to contact the police right away if you feel unsafe. No matter the situation, your safety and your family’s safety should be number one priority.