Watching or Being Watched—What You Need to Know About Tracking Devices in Ohio

Technology makes it easy to track someone without their knowledge. Partners have been using devices such as GPS trackers to follow each other’s whereabouts for some time now, but new products like Apple’s AirTag and other Bluetooth devices like the Tile are expected to make surreptitious tracking even more common.

Is it a good idea? Is it even legal? There are several factors to consider if you are thinking about tracking your partner or if you believe someone is tracking you without your consent.

Technology to Be Aware Of

Many people are familiar with trackers that use Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite signals. The satellites transmit a unique code with information that enables devices to compute the satellite’s location and then use that information to calculate the user’s location, all within split seconds. Because the satellites are positioned all around the Earth, GPS devices work anywhere.

AirTag and similar Bluetooth devices send out a signal that is picked up by other devices in the network. The devices transmit the location of the “tag” to a centralized location like Apple’s iCloud, where users can view it on a map.

Since more people out on the street have Apple devices than apps or devices made by other brands, in many cases Apple’s tag can signal a location with greater accuracy than other brands. However, in areas without a lot of other people, and therefore not many devices to pick up a signal, the tracking capabilities of any Bluetooth device can be spotty.

Uses of Tracking Devices

Many devices, including the AirTag, are marketed as a way to keep track of things rather than people. Find your missing keys or wallet. Track your fleet of trucks. But people have reported others using devices to stalk them.

Although stalking is illegal under Ohio law, the laws are unclear about whether simply using a device to monitor someone’s movement constitutes stalking. The crime of menacing by stalking generally requires a pattern of behavior, so it might be necessary to prove that someone used a tracking device more than once to find them guilty of stalking.

In addition, civil courts have ruled in Ohio that tracking with a GPS device does not necessarily constitute an invasion of privacy either. However, since many jurisdictions have laws on the books that specifically prohibit tracking with electronic devices, legislators or judges in Ohio might follow suit and make a definitive statement about electronic tracking before too long.

If You Are Being Tracked

If an iPhone detects an unknown AirTag device close by that is moving along with it, the phone is supposed to send the user a notification and a map showing the location where the tracking initiated. However, tests have shown that this safety feature is not foolproof.

Moreover, finding a tracking device and finding the identity of the person who placed it are two different tasks. To find out who purchased a particular device, you might need a subpoena to get the seller to release the information. 

However, if you do determine that your former partner used a device to track you, they could be in big trouble, even if the act did not officially constitute stalking or invasion of privacy. First, the action is likely to make your ex look unreasonable to a judge. Second, if there is any kind of protection order in place, the tracking action violates the order. Keep all evidence of tracking, such as screenshots showing tracking by an AirTag.

Talk to an Attorney to Learn the Consequences of Tracking

With new technology and ever-changing privacy concerns, the lawful uses of tracking technology can be hard to pinpoint. Before using a device—even with consent—it is a good idea to check with your attorney for guidance.

If you have questions about how tracking or other actions could affect your divorce proceedings, we invite you to call the experienced team at Weis Law Group for a confidential consultation.