GPS tracker FAQ: Is it legal to fit GPS trackers in the UK?

February 7, 2022 - Reading time: 12 minutes

As a leading detective agency based in the UK, we use GPS tracking devices on a daily basis. Trackers are small, discreet, and can be fitted to most vehicles with ease.

It usually takes a matter of seconds to conceal a tracker onto a vehicle. Whether the tracker is placed in the front/rear bumper or underneath the vehicle, once secured in place we are able to track its exact position 24 hours per day. We can learn exactly where the vehicle is being driven, how fast it is driven, where it is parked and how long it is parked for.

It’s easy to understand how trackers could be useful to private investigators, but is it legal to use tracking devices in the UK? When can they be used? We will endeavour to answer these questions in this article.

Before we get started however, it is worth mentioning that this article touches on complicated legal matters, and if you feel that you could benefit from legal advice then we would recommend speaking to a qualified solicitor. The contents of this article certainly does not constitute legal advice.

Is it legal to fit a GPS tracker on a car in the UK?

It is not illegal to fit trackers to cars in the UK, however, much depends on the circumstances and your intentions. We have described some of the more common scenarios where trackers might be used below.

Example 1: David is concerned that his wife might be cheating on him. He is worried that she might be seeing someone else during the evenings or while making the school run. David asks a private investigator to install a tracking device to his wife’s vehicle in order to see if she is being unfaithful to him. – In this case our client has a relationship with the subject and a justifiable reason to use a tracker.

Holding a GPS tracker in front of a Mercedes car

Example 2: Martin is obsessed with a female from his workplace. She has made it clear to him that she is not interested in pursuing a relationship with him, however Martin doesn’t acknowledge this. Martin would like to fit a tracker to her vehicle so that he can stalk her and find out where she lives. – In this case the tracker is being used with malice, and its use may be considered to be illegal as it forms part of a campaign of stalking/harassment.

As you can tell, much depends on the circumstances in each case, and often how the law is interpreted. In general, the following rules must always be observed when it comes to using GPS tracking devices in the UK:

  • There should not be any legal reason that prevents you from contacting the vehicle’s owner, or any potential drivers/passengers of the vehicle
  • Force should not be used in order to access the vehicle
  • The vehicle should not be damaged in any way as the result of a tracker’s installation or removal
  • Data gathered by trackers must be stored and used responsibly, and in accordance with the relevant legislation
  • Always use a professional investigator to lead your investigation and install the tracking device for you

Related article: What powers do UK private investigators have?

Is it legal to buy a GPS tracker in the UK?

Yes, tracking devices are perfectly legal to buy, sell, and own in the UK. It is when you use the tracker to monitor other people without their consent that the legality of your activities may come into question.

Can private investigators fit trackers in the UK?

Yes, private investigators fit tracking devices to vehicles across the UK on a daily basis.

What a private investigator may not do is ‘trespass onto private land’ in order to fit a tracker onto a vehicle.

Trespassing occurs when a person enters another’s property without their permission or consent. However, if a driveway is open and accessible to any member of the public, then it would be difficult to describe accessing the land as trespass

In a 2007 report which has since been widely cited by private investigators, the OSC’s Chief Surveillance Commissioner, Sir Christopher Rose, stated that “putting an arm into a wheel arch or under the frame of a vehicle is straining the concept of trespass” [source].

In general, vehicles which are parked on public land, or on publicly accessible land, are considered to be ‘fair game’ for private investigators.

How accurate are GPS trackers?

GPS trackers are usually accurate within a range of around 5 meters. Whilst trackers are generally quite accurate, there are variables which can affect the accuracy of GPS devices... Obstacles such as trees and tall buildings, for example, may prevent signals from GPS satellites from reaching the tracker, which can affect accuracy in some cases.

Pointing at maps on a phone screen

How reliable are GPS trackers?

GPS trackers can be purchased for just a few pounds, going up to one thousand pounds or even more for professional grade equipment. As with most gadgets, you are likely to receive a higher quality product depending on how much money you decide to spend. Cheaper devices are more likely to stop working during an investigation or to break – which is why we do not use them or recommend them.

How much do you charge to fit GPS trackers?

Private investigators typically charge a fee for both installation and removal of trackers. If a tracker is being used for a prolonged period and the battery starts to run low, then you may decide for an investigator to remove the tracker and install another battery (or recharge the battery), and then reinstall it.

Fees for these services can vary from case to case and depending on the location of the assignment. Please get in touch with us for a free quote, remember to include your post code and any relevant details - we will do our best to understand your requirements and provide a no obligation quote.

Can you install a GPS tracker for me without providing a surveillance team?

The short answer is yes. We typically install trackers as part of our surveillance service, so that we can understand the subject's behaviour and conduct surveillance at times/locations that we are most likely to gather the best evidence in the form of photos/video.

If our client does not wish for us to conduct surveillance however, then we can just provide the service of GPS tracker installation/removal instead.  

How can I find a tracker on my car?

In order to find a tracker attached to your vehicle you will need to crawl underneath it and carefully look for any suspicious devices.

Trackers are usually equipped with strong magnets and attach to metal components underneath the vehicle, such as the frame or to a bash plate. Certain models of vehicle have unique ‘hiding spots’ where a tracker can be easily hidden. The best place to hide a tracker will depend on which vehicle it is being installed on.

Can you find a tracker hidden on my car?

Yes, in some cases we can help to locate trackers which have been fitted to our clients’ vehicles.

How long do GPS tracker batteries last?

In general tracker batteries can last for around 1-2 weeks, however there are many variables involved such as how often the tracker updates its location, the size of the tracker itself (and therefore its battery capacity). If the weather is particularly cold for example, then this may also reduce the amount of time before the tracker needs to be removed and recharged.

How do GPS trackers work?

GPS stands for ‘Global Positioning System’. The technology relies on 30+ active satellites which are constantly orbiting the earth. Trackers use data from these satellites (usually at least four or more satellites at a time) in order to determine their current location, effectively using the same technology as the GPS satellite navigation in your car.  

Once the tracker has determined its current position (and speed, if it is moving), it will upload that data to the cloud using a mobile network.

GPS tracker communicating with a satellite

Once the tracker’s location data has been uploaded to the cloud, users with the correct username/password will be able to login to the control panel and access data such as the tracker’s current position and any other locations it has recently visited, as well as the date/time that the tracker visited those location.

GPS tracker login page

As private investigators, we can look at data which is collected by GPS trackers in order to determine patterns of behaviour and plan surveillance accordingly.

How are GPS trackers positioned on vehicles?

If you are tasked with installing a GPS tracker on a vehicle, then you must first have at least a basic understanding of how the technology works.

Trackers rely on receiving data from satellites… If a tracker is placed underneath a car for example, then the signal being transmitted to it will likely be blocked by the metal body of the car.

In order to receive data, the signal which is received by trackers will effectively bounce off the ground and make its way underneath the vehicle where the tracker is located. As such, the tracker’s antennae should always be pointing down towards the ground. 

If a tracker is equipped with magnets, then you can assume that the antennae will be pointing in the opposite direction towards the ground. It’s important to ensure that the tracker is always positioned correctly and not upside down. If the tracker’s antenna is positioned badly then it may struggle to send or receive data.

PI-UK tracker deployment service

Please see the Private Investigators UK homepage for more information about us, or feel free to get in touch with us in order to request a quote for GPS tracker installation - please remember to include the exact location of the case (post code) and any details relevant to your case.

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