Private investigators in North Carolina fear they are about to lose a vital tool in their industry – GPS tracking.
A bill moving through its final stages in the state House would include secretive GPS tracking of another person under the umbrella definition of cyberstalking, a class 2 misdemeanor.
House Bill 238 allows some exemptions, such as for various law enforcement officers, the owner of a vehicle fleet or a parent tracking their child’s location. The bill is expected to go before the full House on Wednesday.
The North Carolina Association of Private Investigators has asked for an exemption for certified private investigators. It was granted in initial bill language but then taken out.
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Critics of the private eye tracking say they do not want people to circumvent stalking laws by hiring a private investigator to track an individual for them using GPS.
Rep. Rick Glazier, a Cumberland County Democrat, said in a Tuesday committee that the House had tried to make an exception for private investigators, but the Senate had a lengthy debate over it and ultimately kept permission for private eye tracking out of the bill.
Since the Senate has shut down many of its committees and is mainly conducting concurrence votes, Glazier said any amendments to the bill at this point could threaten it.
“We need to move it,” he said.
The legislature could look at a favorable way to include private investigators in the future, he added.
Jerry Pitman, vice president of the NC Association of Private Investigators, said investigators do not arbitrarily put tracking devices on someone without knowing the client.
“Before I will let you retain me, I’m going to do a history on you. Do you have a history of domestic violence? Is there a history in your life or your family’s life of domestic abuse? What’s your arrest record?” Pitman said.
He said that many private investigators have a background in law enforcement and that they do not misuse the technology.
Banning private investigators from using GPS tracking could hurt the industry, Pitman said. Instead of tracking someone through a GPS, they would have to use three or four investigators to work one case in some instances.
Gary Pastor, president of NC Association of Private Investigators, said he thinks there is confusion among legislators about how GPS tracking works.
One lawmaker raised concern in a House committee meeting Tuesday about invasion of privacy as he thought the GPS transmitted audio, which it does not.
“There is no expectation of privacy on the exterior of a motor vehicle,” Pastor said. “It’s not harassment or stalking or anything of that nature.”