The recent revelation that Equifax, one of the three big credit-reporting agencies, suffered an enormous data breach1 has many Virginians upset, and rightly so. Yet divorced Virginia men may have already had far more personal reasons to feel threatened: the risk of technostalking by an estranged spouse or, after a divorce, an ex-wife. Technostalking means using technology to track, monitor or spy on another person. The most common ways to technostalk someone is through a GPS device attached to a car or through a mobile telephone.
Stalking in Virginia
Stalking of any kind, under Virginia Code § 18.2-60.3, is a Class 1 Misdemeanor carrying a penalty of confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500. The judge can choose either or both penalties.
Stalking means placing the other person in “reasonable fear of death, criminal sexual assault, or bodily injury to that other person or to that other person’s family or household member.” If you fear your wife or ex-wife is unhinged enough to consider technostalking, you should consult your family law attorney immediately.
GPS Vehicle Tracking
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is the grid that allows ships, airplanes, hot air balloons and rental cars to get around safely. It is also the network that can be used for less-than-wholesome purposes by an angry ex-wife or a suspicious spouse. She may think she is gathering evidence to use against you. If your separation or divorce is not going smoothly, you may want to consider what tactics the other side may be using.
GPS tracking devices are routinely used on rental cars, company-owned or leased vehicles, and municipal equipment. GPS trackers are definitely not routine when the vehicle’s owner does not know of their existence and has not consented to their installation. If your spouse attempts to track your car’s movements without your knowledge or consent, she is breaking the law under Code of Virginia § 18.2-60.5, “Unauthorized use of electronic tracking device; penalty.” The law says,
“Any person who installs or places an electronic tracking device through intentionally deceptive means and without consent, or causes an electronic tracking device to be installed or placed through intentionally deceptive means and without consent, and uses such device to track the location of any person is guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.”
The penalty for a Class 3 Misdemeanor is a fine of not more than $500, by Code of Virginia § 18.2-11. This may not sound like significant punishment, but if you catch your wife or ex-wife planting a bug on your car and she is found guilty, she now has a criminal record. That could influence a judge in a pending divorce, custody or visitation hearing.
The easiest cure for suspicion of a GPS tracker in or on your car is to do a visual inspection and electronic detection. GPS tracker detectors are available for sale (though a bit pricey), or you can hire a private investigator to sweep your vehicle.
If you happen to find such a device, use caution to avoid getting your own fingerprints on it. Photograph it in place, remove it using latex gloves, and either turn it over to your attorney or report it to the police. Tempting as it may be to attach it to your dog’s collar or offer it to the UPS delivery person for a merry jaunt around town, it is evidence of her criminality and should be retained.
If you are worried your wife or ex-wife is spying on your online activity, you can defend yourself using technology, but you can also point out to her that such intrusion is illegal. Under Code of Virginia § 18.2-152.4, your password-protected computer, electronic device or memory storage system is off limits to her. The entire law has vast stretches of salient points, but two stand out:
It shall be unlawful for any person, with malicious intent, to …
8. Install or cause to be installed, or collect information through, computer software … without the computer owner’s authorization; or
9. Install or cause to be installed on the computer of another, computer software for the purpose of (i) taking control of that computer so that it can cause damage to another computer or (ii) disabling or disrupting the ability of the computer to share or transmit instructions or data to other computers or to any related computer equipment or devices …
Mobile Phone Tracking
Most Android or Apple cell phones have cell phone tracking abilities. This is great for parents, but can be intrusive for spouses embroiled in a separation or divorce. You have easy ways to turn your phone’s tracking ability on or off, as outlined by the experts at It Still Works.
Be aware that the camera and video feature on your phone also uses GPS to set a location for the picture, so if during your separation you were taking, shall we say, Big Boy photographs or video of an adult nature with someone not your spouse, you may want to turn on your “Privacy” feature on your phone.
If you worry that turning off your phone’s tracking system will affect emergency 911 tracking, fear not: the two systems are independent of each other; you (and possibly your kids) can still be found by emergency responders.
At The Firm For Men we have experience with spouses who take matters too far. We can work with you to compel your wife or ex-wife to leave you alone, stop harassing you, and obey Virginia’s laws. We are not afraid to fight hard for the rights of our male clients, especially when they face real danger from technostalking. Call our offices at 757-383-9184 or contact us online today.