Bill to criminalize nefarious GPS tracking advances to Senate, despite lingering questions

Debate over exceptions for family members, private investigators is expected in the full chamber

By: - February 22, 2023 7:00 am

Indiana lawmakers advanced a bill that would make it illegal to use a GPS device to track someone without their consent. (Getty Images)

It would be a crime to use a GPS device to track someone without their knowledge, under a bill passed Tuesday in the Senate corrections committee. 

But Republican senators are split on who should still be allowed to use the increasingly common technology. Much of the contention surrounds possible exemptions for private investigators and certain family members.

Although the proposal advanced 8-0, lawmakers cautioned that the bill still needs more work. More amendments are expected in the full chamber.

Senate Bill 161, authored by Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, would create the crime of remote criminal tracking for tracking someone without their knowledge, a Class C misdemeanor. The penalty would be increased to a Class A misdemeanor if the tracking occurred under a protective order. 

The sentence could be further enhanced for someone convicted of using a tracking device when committing a felony.

“What I’m trying to accomplish with Senate Bill 161 is to thread a needle between what would be legitimate uses of electronics,” Crider said Tuesday. “I’m trying to figure this out, and this is our first attempt at this, so I will submit to you that the bill is probably not perfect.”

Cracking down on GPS trackers

Crider said the impetus for the bill arose from “increasing concerns” brought by Indiana attorneys over the use of electronic devices, like Apple AirTags or cell phone apps, to track and “stalk” individuals who are in “custodial” and “domestic violence” situations.

Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield. (Photo by Monroe Bush for Indiana Capital Chronicle)

That included an incident in Hancock County, in which a man tracked down his former girlfriend, Millie Parke, and “assaulted her viciously and nearly took her life,” Crider said.

Parke told lawmakers Tuesday her abusive ex-boyfriend repeatedly violated a protective order — and by using GPS tracking technology — “always” knew where she was.

While trying to flee, she was ultimately attacked by her ex at a local gas station, leaving her with lingering injuries, as well as ongoing mental and emotional trauma.

“You think you’re fleeing somebody, you think you’re getting away, you think you’re doing something — but you’re not. You’re right there,” Park said Tuesday. “He had access every single time I started my car. Anytime I started, stopped — everything.”

Laura Berry with the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence noted that stalking through the use of technology is a “significant problem” in Indiana. She said 60% of the coalition’s survivors report being tracked daily by GPS monitoring.

“Our concern is their safety,” Berry said. “The tracking, we know, has long term health consequences and can lead to death.”

Courtney Curtis with the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council (IPAC) said Crider’s bill would help prosecutors intervene earlier in such stalking situations and potentially increase charges on violations.

“We don’t have to wait for her to be stalked on a repeated basis, which requires a continuing course of harassing behavior. We don’t have to wait until she is battered to the point of serious bodily injury,” Curtis said. “The importance of this bill is being able to step in earlier to cause a disruption in that behavior.”

Exceptions in the latest version of the bill allow for parents tracking a minor child, tracking personal and business property, and court ordered monitoring — such as with ankle bracelets — and lawful police work.

Legal tracking would not include that which violates a protective order, though.

Curtis said IPAC supports exceptions for family members, including to locate an elderly adult. But who qualifies should be better defined, she said, noting that “some family members have contentious relationships.”

Who should be exempt?

Lawmakers on the committee struggled over other acceptable uses of tracking devices, however.

The committee amended the bill Tuesday to exempt vehicle manufacturers that install GPS tracking and navigation devices in new cars.

Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne (Courtesy Indiana Senate Republicans)

Another amendment, authored by Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, sought to create a more narrow exception that applies only to family members tracking minor children, relatives with intellectual disabilities or those under a guardianship.

But the proposed change was not voted on after committee chairman Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, threatened to kill the bill if amended with Brown’s language.

“There’s probably unanimous consent here that we should not be doing this to our fellow citizens,” Freeman said. “This is a challenge. When you put something in law and you put something on paper, it’s the law. And we all want to protect the ladies in our life and ladies in Indiana — anybody but especially ladies. And the challenge is how do you do that without excluding the world?”

Brown and other lawmakers additionally maintained that private investigators should still be subject to criminal provisions in the bill.

A separate amendment to exempt licensed investigators failed in a 2-6 vote.

“I don’t think we should give a middleman, so to speak, a pass to be allowed to track businesses and do things that they wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to do, which is disturbing to think about,” Brown said. “I have a respect for the profession of private investigators, but the profession predates these kinds of unbelievably invasive devices.”

David Shelton, a licensed private investigator and vice president of the Indiana Society of Professional Investigators, held that GPS tracking “can be a very valuable tool” for private eyes.

“Private investigators are professional, very sympathetic and understand all the concerns that have been relayed here today,” he said. “There’s not a single investigator who has the least bit of integrity that would not first conduct a background investigation on any potential client to assure there’s no protective orders in force or pending in the court systems there.”

Still, Shelton said he doesn’t use the technology himself, conceding that GPS devices have “always been kind of a gray area,” legally, for private investigators.

Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, additionally said a person who feels they’ve been “aggrieved” by a tracking device already has the option to file a complaint with the Indiana Attorney General or the state licensing board.

Brown pushed back, arguing that a person wouldn’t know they’re being tracked by a “really good” private investigator.

“The way this bill reads — we’re not talking about just putting a GPS, attaching it to someone’s car, which is disturbing, because police have to get a warrant to do that,” Brown said. “If a private investigator figures out how to drop an AirTag into my personal belongings — like I leave my shopping bags out there — that’s a tracking device that would be allowed. I find that unbelievably disturbing.”


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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.