Is It Legal to Spy on Someone's Cell Phone to Read Texts or Track Location?

Is It Legal to Secretly Spy on Someone’s Phone?

If you suspect your significant other is cheating on you, you may have asked yourself the following question: "Is spying on someone's phone illegal?"

The answer depends on the facts and circumstances.  In general, it is illegal to install software to spy on an adult's phone without notifying them, even if you are married to that person and own the phone. It may be legal to use software to track the cell phone activity of an employee or a child.

Monitoring a Child's Phone

teenagers using their cell phones

It is legal to monitor your own child's phone without first obtaining their express informed consent that you are doing so. You must be the owner of the phone if you intend to install tracking software on it.  If your child regularly uses the phone and you know it is also used by an adult, you must take proper precautions to ensure that the adult who uses the phone is notified that you are monitoring it.

Monitoring a child's phone has several benefits.  For parents, it can help provide assurance that their child is learning good habits about cell phone usage. It can help save lives of children and prevent child abduction because the parent has a chance to intervene if the parent finds out that his or her child has been talking to adults online.

There are several reasons to limit spying on your child's phone.  As your child grows older, you want to make sure that you are developing trust that your child will be able to live independently when he or she turns 18 without your guidance and intervention.

Confronting your child about activity on their phone can affect your relationship with them adversely. Some teens may take additional measures to hide their cell phone activity from their parents if they know you are spying on them. They may switch to other methods of electronic communication such as email while continuing to text "harmlessly".

Some children may feel that they are not trusted by their family if they are otherwise behaving well but their parents continue to monitor their cell phone usage despite not finding anything to suggest the child is doing anything wrong.

You may consider letting your child know that the phone belongs to you, and that as the owner you have the right to take it away and to monitor any activity on the phone.  This reinforces the idea that owning a cell phone is a privilege.

If your child has earned your trust by being respectful and honest and has obeyed all curfews, you may consider rewarding their behavior by not checking up on them.

Monitoring an Employee's Phone

monitoring employees phones

You can monitor an employee's phone under certain circumstances.  The company must own the phone, and the employee must be informed that they are being monitored.

Employers might want to monitor the employee's phone for the protection of the employee and the employer.

For example, if a customer made a complaint that an employee had sent inappropriate text messages to him or her, the employer could refute these claims if it has records of the cell phone activity.

Monitoring an employee's phone can help save the company money.  When employees know they are being monitored, they may be less likely to waste time or commit unethical or illegal acts while on the clock.

If you choose to monitor employee cell phones, you might also consider providing employees with clear guidance about your expectations. For example, are you going to allow them to use the internet for personal reasons during breaks, or will this type of activity be strictly prohibited?

Employers should consider providing a written guideline about using cell phones for personal use, including using the phone for a business owned by the employee and not related to work at the job.

There are some circumstances where monitoring an employee's cell phone activity on a company-owned phone has disadvantages. An employee who knows they are being monitored may feel that their employer is always watching them and does not trust them. This can be distracting for some employees and can damage morale.

If an employer chooses to monitor phones, it is especially important that they treat all employees fairly by monitoring all phones owned by company employees. Employers should avoid singling out certain individuals.

Monitoring Your Spouse or Significant Other

is it legal to spy on a cell phone

Many people are tempted to check up on their spouse by using software to track their activity, especially if they have noticed unusual behavior recently or are contemplating filing for divorce and want to use any information they find to gain an advantage in court.

This is absolutely not allowed if the spouse has not been notified that you are going to track their phone activity. If you have already done this, you cannot use any information that you found without their permission in a divorce or custody case.

Because this type of conduct is illegal, an attorney is ethically obligated to avoid helping you incriminate yourself in court.  If you need to ask yourself the question, is spying on someone's phone illegal, you might ask yourself why you feel that you need to check up on your spouse or significant other.

Confronting them about what you have noticed might be a good first step and can save you from being accused of doing anything illegal to check up on them.For some couples, monitoring cell phone use can help improve the relationship. This may be especially true if one spouse has breached the other's trust. Knowing what the other spouse is up to can help provide reassurance that the relationship is on the right track.

Conclusion

If you are going to monitor the cell phone activity of an adult, they must be notified, even if you are the legal owner of the phone. Cell phone monitoring technology should always be used responsibly.

Always take into account not only the legality of monitoring someone else's phone but also your reasons for wanting to monitor it, how monitoring them could affect the relationship and what steps you plan to take if you find something incriminating on the phone

About the Author Jason

Jason is a work from home dad who has a passion for DIY projects, yard work, and SEC Football. His background is IT, but he's always fancied himself as a part-time ship welder, landscaper, and short order cook. During the week he can be found on his laptop 10 hours-a-day, but on the weekends he escapes to the local DIY Cave to play with REAL toys.