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GPS / Cyberstalking - Nebraskans for Family

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GPS / Cyberstalking
Sunday August 3, 2008
Will the Nebraska Legislature enter the debate over GPS/cyber-stalking

In late 2007 I was informed that my ex-wife hired a private investigator to install a GPS device on my car thereby enabling her to watch my movements every second of every day. My initial thought was that she has more time and money than she knows what to do with. But when I showed people the GPS reports that she had printed on my travels I noticed a real sense of outrage, not from me (the victim) but from the people I told who were completely unaware that it was perfectly legal in Nebraska for any private citizen to attach a GPS device to the vehicle of any other private citizen. I could see the wheels start to spin as they almost certainly wondered if a psycho ex-girlfriend or wife had placed a similar device on their vehicle. Just the idea of someone sitting in their pajamas at a computer monitor watching a little blip (your car) move across a map ca be a little unsettling. What's even more unsettling is how easy it is to obtain these devices and the service necessary to monitor them. I found literally thousands of sites selling GPS devices made to be covertly attached to a vehicle. In addition, several private investigators in the area have a thriving business based almost entirely on tracking private citizens on behalf of other private citizens. The reason I point out that these are private citizens it that law enforcement's use of this technology to catch bad guys has been fought and won in numerous courts across the country. I don't believe most people have a problem in that situation. That said, that's not the issue we are dealing with in the immediate case. The issue is that this new technology is so easy to get a hold of and use that now we have random people running around putting tracking devices on other random people's cars and sitting at a computer watching them travel across town.

My first thought was to ask folks from local law enforcement about this. I was given the same information by almost every agency. It's crazy but legal I was told. The only instance where this is illegal is if the GPS, is tapped into the cars power supply. Otherwise its fine. On to the next source of info, I checked the internet. I found numerous laws in other states where this sort of thing is criminal. Most if not all states have laws on the books making it a crime to affix a GPS device to a car unless you are the owner or at least on the vehicle title. Makes sense, you probably shouldn't go around tampering with someone else' vehicle. Try as I might, I just couldn't find any Nebraska law dealing with this issue. I found statutes that come close. For example, a good lawyer could argue that this is stalking behavior under existing law but is is a real stretch since numerous other criteria have to be met as well. For example, the person being stalked has to know they are being stalked in order for Nebraska stalking laws to apply. I think it's pretty clear that this is stalking (whether or not it fits the legal mold in Nebraska) but why should it take an artful attorney to make that leap. Why can't the laws in Nebraska be written to protect out privacy without the need to fit something like this into another category.

In an effort to answer that question I went to my senator, Gail Kopplin. After meeting with Gail and his legislative assistant, it was clear that they were about as confused as I was about this oversight in our law. A few weeks later I received a letter from the senator's office letting me know that after some research he had decided to submit the issue for an interim study over the legislative recess. As promised, senator Kopplin introduced LR 317 which points out the dangers of cyber stalking (including GPS devices) and requesting that the Judiciary Committee study the issue and submit a report of the findings. I think this is a great start but this is Nebraska after all. I would be surprised if our group of amateur / part time legislators actually do anything more than talk about taking action on this issue. I could be wrong. We shall see.

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