This is probably the most common question I am asked – “is it legal to use cell phone spy software?” As with most legal questions there is no simple answer, don’t you just love the legal profession! It is legal to use this type of software but of course there are conditions attached and it will depend on where in the world you are using it.
Countries and even different U.S. states have different privacy laws and they can vary significantly so it is difficult o give a definite answer without checking your local regulations – sorry.
That said, I will give you some advice that I have picked up with my involvement with this type of spy software and hopefully give you some answers that make sense.
When you are considering buying spy software you do need to carefully judge the legality but don’t ignore the moral issues behind its use. First let’s look at what the software companies are really saying.
What the Companies are Really Saying
You’ve probably seen the hyped up sales pages and headlines scattered across the internet – “Spy on Your Cheating Spouse”, “Catch your Cheating Husband/Wife with Spy Phone Software.” Sounds great, but these are marketing headlines, designed to catch your attention regardless of the legal issues.
When you visit the company’s website you will always find the disclaimer, usually at the bottom of their page, not too prominently displayed. When you are actually making the purchase you need to tick the box for a further disclaimer – absolving them of all responsibility of how you use their products. So what are they saying?
Sample Disclaimer from a spy phone software company:
“It is the responsibility of the user of xxSPY to ascertain, and obey, all applicable laws in their country in regard to the use of xxSPY for “sneaky purposes”. If you are in doubt, consult your local attorney before using xxSPY. By downloading and installing xxSPY, you represent that xxSPY will be used in only a lawful manner.
Logging other people’s SMS messages & other phone activity or installing xxSPY on another person’s phone without their knowledge can be considered as an illegal activity in your country. xxSPY assumes no liability and is not responsible for any misuse or damage caused by our xxSPY. It’s final user’s responsibility to obey all laws in their country. By purchasing & downloading xxSPY, you hereby agree to the above.”
“DISCLAIMER: Our software is designed for monitoring your children or employees on a Smartphone you own or have proper consent to monitor. You must notify users of the Smartphone that they are being monitored. Failure to do so may result in the breaking of federal and state laws. If you install software onto a device of which you do not own or have proper consent, we will cooperate with law officials to the fullest extent possible.”
They all say basically the same thing; it is your responsibility to use the software legally, if in doubt get professional legal advice. You can install cell phone monitoring software on a phone that you own or have legal right over but you must also inform any adult user that the phone is being monitored.
Now I don’t know about you but it will be difficult to catch your cheating partner if you use spy phone software legally. You need to buy them the phone then tell them – by the way it’s being monitored. Think this might work? – get real!
So these products are advertised as covert spy tools but in reality they can’t be used legally in this way. How can they do this, isn’t this bad advertizing? Well yes, it is shady advertising at best but the disclaimer keeps the software company on the right side of the law.
For one of the worst examples of this unethical marketing at work you should read my alternative Spybubble Review, for a laugh if nothing else!
Legality and Morality
Of course the reality is that many people will ignore the law and use this software for the advertised purposes and many more in to the bargain. The spy software is very difficult to detect and if the spy is clever they can easily get away with it. The penalties for getting caught can be severe, including jail terms!
There are moral as well as legal issues to think about. Take the – spying on an unfaithful partner example. I have worked with many clients who suspect their partners of having affairs and they are seeking the evidence to confirm this. I will always ask what they want to do with this evidence.
Is it just to confirm or deny their paranoia or are they looking for grounds for divorce? As to the paranoia – if you are so insecure as to consider spying on a partner, is your relationship worth saving? For many people if your relationship has deteriorated to this level it is already done for.
There are better ways and simple confrontation is the first step – talking about your insecurities is a start. How would you feel if you found out that your partner was spying on you and you are totally innocent – would the relationship survive?
As for evidence, if this is gained illegally you cannot use it or you will incriminate yourself leading to even more complications. Knowledge is power but what real good is this if you still cannot use this knowledge?
If you gather evidence in ways which are against the law you can not use it in any legal proceedings – whether spying on partners or employees. Before you decide to monitor anyone’s cell phone you need to think ahead about what you intend to do with the information.
There can be times and good reasons to monitor a cell phone in perfectly legal and justifiable ways. With young children it may be reasonable to monitor their cell phone on safety grounds. More and more young kids now have their own cell phones.
As parents we are responsible for our children’s safety, an increasingly difficult task these days. Who are they talking to, are they using chat rooms or what websites are they visiting? You do not need to be reading or listening to every thing they say or do but having a good idea about their habits may help you to protect them.
With cell phone monitoring software you can keep an eye on what they are up to without totally invading their privacy. With the latest software and Smartphones you can even use the phone as a tracking device – giving you up to date positioning of where the phone and hopefully the child is.
You need to use your judgment as a parent to decide when safety out ranks privacy but added parental control must be a good thing.
Tracking and monitoring your employees using their company cell phone can be another reasonable use. Legally you must own the phone and you must inform them that it is monitored. Often simply telling them that the phone use is monitored will be enough to ensure that it is not abused.
Again the tracking aspect can be useful. Many firms install tracking devices in the company vehicles, if the cell phone has this tracking ability you could save having to fit extra devices into the vehicles.
Another very useful feature with some software is that you can lock the cell phone remotely or even delete all the data on the phone. This may be useful if a phone is lost or stolen and it contains sensitive information.
Spying on people can be a bit of a minefield in legal terms. Laws are designed to protect our right to privacy and the penalties are rightly quite harsh if you break these laws. Morally you need to think about your reasons for using spy phone software products.
When used properly as monitoring devices they can be very beneficial but in the wrong hands they can be abused. Don’t listen to the hyped up marketing headlines and make informed judgments based on the risks.
My disclaimer – I couldn’t resist – this article is based on my personal views and experience, it is not to be taken as lawful advice. When considering the use of phone monitoring software or indeed any spying activities always seek professional legal advice. If you are totally paranoid – seek medical advice!
If you still want some spy software then check out my articles:
How to Buy the Best Cell Phone Spy Software
Mobile Spy, Flexispy and Stealth Genie – a Comparison