COBB COUNTY, Ga. – A Marietta attorney is pushing for stricter laws for private investigators and GPS devices after a Cobb jury ruled one investigators didn't break any laws when he installed a tracking device on a woman's car.
It was a GPS system that ultimately landed veteran private investigator Eric Echols in the hot seat.
A woman claimed, he and his firm, the TFP Company, invaded her privacy and caused emotional distress. The case landed in the Cobb County Superior Court.
“He was essentially hired by a wife who thought there were allegations of an extramarital affair with her former best friend and at-the-time husband,” said one of Echol’s attorneys, Amber Reed.
In 2013, Echols put a GPS tracking device under his client's best friend’s car. That woman's attorney Chuck Bachman said that where things got murky.
“If the police aren't generally permitted to do that, I certainly don't think a private investigator should be given the power and the choice,” Bachman said.
Currently, there’s not a specific Georgia law that talks about the use of GPS devices to spy on cars, but there is a right-to-privacy law. Echols said he did not break any laws.
“To try and portray me as someone who crawls on the ground, sneaks around at night to try and harass the plaintiff, that's not the case,” Echols said. “As long as a private investigator is working a case and that GPS is put on in a public parking lot, it’s okay to use, and that's what happened.”
“You can think of all the places you go that aren't wrong or immoral,” said Bachman. “But you don't want any third party to be able to track you.”
But a 12-person jury did not agree with Bachman. The jury ruled in favor of Echol’s Private Investigation Company. It was a first-of-its-kind case in the State of Georgia.
“The jury would not have been persuaded had it worked, that her privacy would have been invaded and they definitely didn’t think she suffered any emotional distress,” said Echol’s lead attorney W. Bryant Green III.
“The fact the jury didn't find guilt, emphasizes the need for a law to be passed. Because the current state of the law isn't clear,” Bachman said.
Echol’s other attorney said the decision was clear.
“It was never argument that anybody be allowed to place a GPS tracking device on another – that would be stalking,” Reed said. “We're talking about licensed private investigators, who've gone through extensive background checks, who've taken classes and training.”
Bachman plans to appeal the jury’s decision and he’s working with a Georgia Representative to introduce a GPS law concerning privacy.
As for Echols, he said GPS systems aren’t just used in infidelity cases. He said private investigators routinely use them in child endangerment, child cruelty and child abduction cases.