Is it Legal to Use Vehicle Trackers in the UK?

There are many excellent purposes for using GPS-based tracking services for vehicles. As with all legal matters, the key issue is whether your legal representative can make a convincing argument that your use of vehicle trackers follows the letter of the law - whether or not this is truly the case. Vehicle trackers are used by many businesses, their use being absolutely essential for delivery workers, taxi drivers, sales people and the like - anyone whose job entails travelling regularly to a variety of locations. Vehicle trackers allow businesses to perform much more efficiently and we take this for granted now that we can be assured that the taxi driver we are waiting for is literally only one street away, or that the package we never received has been recorded as delivered at the wrong postcode.

The law states, rather baldly, that is legal to track any vehicle as long as the driver is aware they are being tracked. For taxi drivers and fleet delivery workers, this means they should have signed a declaration as part of their Terms & Conditions as an employee. As the data collected from vehicle trackers refers to a specific driver, employers need to be aware of the requirements of the Data Protection Act on the collection, use and sharing of 'personal data'. As part of the T&Cs the company policy document should state

  • the details of how the vehicle tracker works
  • the precise nature of the information recorded
  • the reason for implementing the vehicle tracker
  • the benefits to both the business and the individual.

An experienced HR manager or legal advisor with a background in dealing with employee rights will be able to draw up a safe, solid agreement covering all bases. But when you look at less straight-forward cases, the simple legal status can get more confusing. Technically any covert vehicle tracking is illegal. There are exceptions (and red tape) for the police and intelligence services, but strictly speaking civilians are breaking the law if they track a vehicle secretly. Why can that lead to legal grey areas? If a case can be made that the vehicle tracking was part of a covert investigation into the drivers' illegal activities, then it can be, if not legally permitted, certainly overlooked. But you would have to make a very strong and clear case that your own illegality in using tracking systems covertly can be justified. As we all know, investigative journalists have engaged in illegal activities in order to collate evidence for news stories. Even though phone-hacking has become such a hot potato, many a judge has ordered that illegal acts (such as vehicle tracking and procuring of medical records) can be treated as permissible under the 'public interest' ruling. This is far, far from straight-forward, but if there is sufficient public interest in the activities uncovered through illegal tracking, a sharp lawyer will be able to protect their client. The "tl;dr" (too long, didn't read) version is - if you run a business that uses vehicle trackers, make your workers sign a carefully worded, comprehensive permission form. If you are using vehicle trackers covertly, (a) make sure you have a very good reason to do so  and (b) hire a good lawyer to back you up pronto.