GPS vehicle tracking systems have a wide variety of applications. These devices tend are classed as either 'Past Track' or 'Real Time' systems. The difference lies in the accessibility and availability of the data from the unit.
Past Track - sometimes referred to as 'history loggers' are used to store the
data about a vehicle’s direction, distance, speed, length of stops, etc
to the unit's internal flash memory, which can later be retrieved
from the vehicle and the information can be downloaded for
review. Advancements in Past Track devices now mean that they use integrated Bluetooth
technology, where the data can also be transferred wirelessly to a nearby laptop
without the need to retrieve the actual unit from the vehicle.
Real Time - used monitor and track a vehicles
movements live as the action actually happens. The data is quickly uploaded
to a secure server, which in turn translates the information to a
tracking console which can be viewed in full colour. The data is
transferred instantaneously, so you don't
miss a beat! This type of tracking can be securely accessed by
computer, PDA or mobile phone. This is generally much
more visual and detailed, and tends to be the more popular option for consumers.
Real Time - whilst being more expensive - do have distinct advantages over
Past Track units. For example, if you need to deploy a system to deter
theft and improve the chances of recovering your stolen car, then a Past
Track unit is not the correct solution because the tracker is stolen
along with the car - doh! Real Time versions are the perfect
choice if you need to know where your stolen car is the moment it is
taken, and you can then direct the Police with accurate detail or give
them temporary access to your tracking console in order for them to act
These types of location systems can also be invaluable general motoring aids. Motorists have used the data gathered to successfully prove that their asset was traveling at a drastically different speed than that reported by police radar guns. One court case using data enabled a motorist to demonstrate that he was traveling at 45 mph (within the speed limit) and not the 62 mph the police officer noted on the citation. Today's systems are so advanced that battery life can exceed many weeks and even months before a recharge is required.
All the above information is only a general insight as there are so many vehicle tracking devices to choose from, each with their own functionality.
With the increasing popularity of car tracking devices there may be a growing question as to their legality. Provided you install a unit whether that be a wired or magnetic that you own for the purposes of theft deterrence and recovery, there is no issue at all. Equally, you may install or attach to any vehicle or asset to monitor its mileage, or track movements for the safety of your employees.
It is advised to best inform the user of any vehicle, be that your company car, fleet vehicle, or valuable asset that a tracking device is installed however, there is no legal requirement to do this.
In covert applications, for example cases where spouse infidelity is suspected or you may be a private investigator (PI) tracking the movements of serious criminals then this may be seen as an invasion of privacy. Laws in the UK are less proscriptive than in the USA when it comes to the invasion of privacy however, even in the USA, the Supreme Court ruled that when you drive on a public street you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Generally, there does not appear to be a problem with using such devices even in a covert way providing you have installed the device in a public place and not on an individuals property and did not commit a crime by installing it (e.g. breaking into the car, tapping into the car's power supply, altering the car's driving characteristics, etc.). It appears that installing a car monitoring device in your teenage son’s car or placing in your child's school bag does not seem to violate any law in the UK.
Evidence obtained from such covert surveillance may also be admissible in court but its relative weight and power will most likely be decided by individual judges. On its own, it is most likely to be considered circumstantial but as supporting and corroborative evidence, it could prove very persuasive.