Text messages and instant messaging are two of the most common ways to communicate with other people. In fact, they are used more than email. Texting means exceptionally high revenues for global carriers. It is estimated over $200 billion was spent on texting in 2011.

There are many instances when knowing how to track someone’s text messages can be extremely beneficial. For parents. learning how to track a text message can save a child’s life or prevent them from being harmed. There are many apps that are available that will help parents learn how to track text messages for free.

Text Messaging Tracking Apps

Text messaging tracking apps are available that can be installed on smartphones and tablets that allow the device to be tracked. Many show you how to track text messages on iPhones for free. More elaborate ones are available, but they can be quite costly. SMS trackers rely on a phone’s GPS or global positioning system as well as their data memory to retrieve messages and the coordinates from which the message was sent.

Tracking apps cannot be used on older cell phones, because many do not have the storage requirements or the capability of being located through any other method than the pinging of their cell signal off of local towers. With this type of device, messages are retrieved through the data card or phone data storage. Both of these methods are extremely limited, however, because the technology was not available at the time to support more sophisticated methods.

Why Text Messages Are Tracked

Text messages are tracked for several reasons. They include:

  • Monitoring teens’ activities
  • Companies monitoring the activities of employees who are using company-owned devices
  • Spouses who suspect their husbands or wives of cheating
  • Law enforcement agencies who are investigating criminal activity
  • Parents who are trying to locate a missing teen or other family members

When it comes to tracking text messages, a person’s right to privacy becomes a primary concern. Tracking messages sent between two adults can infringe on their right to privacy. Adults who are using devices that do not belong to them have little to no expectation of privacy. A company phone, laptop, or tablet does not belong to the person using it, so whatever is sent from the device may be tracked by the company to make sure it is not being used for personal purposes.

Children under the age of 18 who have not been emancipated and are still living with their parents or guardian also have minimal expectations of privacy. While the parent or guardian still pays for their phone service, the child’s device remains under their control. This means any information, text, or data that is sent or received from the device. Access to this data is invaluable if the child or teen goes missing. Texts contain information that can be crucial to who the teen last talked to and who they were seen with before their disappearance. The GPS locator also has useful information that will show lawn enforcement officers where the phone was last used and the location from which any text or transmission was sent.

Law enforcement agencies can also use text messages to uncover valuable information that can help them solve a criminal case or monitor ongoing criminal activity. They are also being submitted in legal proceedings pertaining to child custody and divorce. While the same privacy laws apply, in these cases, the texts or instant messages may be admitted into evidence if the petitioning party can prove the person’s expectation of privacy had been compromised in some way. Although this is not always easy, it can be done if the attorneys are diligent and know how to interpret the law.

Is It Lawful to Track Text Messages?

The legality of tracking text messages mainly has to do with the question of privacy. If the device being used belongs to a company and has been assigned to an employee for company use, the answer is no. Any and all information sent over the device can be monitored, whether or not the user is aware of it. In most cases, employees must sign a user agreement when they receive the device stating that it is to be used for company business only and that any information sent or received from the device may be tracked if the company chooses to do so.

Devices that are privately owned by individuals over the age of 18 cannot be monitored unless there is a court order stating that it is allowed. To obtain a warrant or permission to track someone’s text messages, the judge must be shown reasonable proof that there is some type of illegal or criminal activity taking place that would justify violating the person’s right to privacy. Wives and husbands may use apps to track their spouse’s text messages, but the information is rarely admissible in court unless a line of questioning negates the person’s right to privacy.

Minors who are under the age of 18 have limited expectations of privacy. Individuals who are under the age of 18, but are emancipated or living on their own and paying their own bills, would have the same right to privacy as an adult who is over the legal age requirement. Because a minor is under the custodial protection of a parent and the parent is responsible for their actions, their right to privacy is extremely minimal, if it exists at all. Parents have the right to monitor or track any device the child uses, including school laptops and computers.

Who Is Allowed to Legally Track Text Messages

In most cases, the owner is the only one who is allowed to track messages, phone calls, and emails that are sent and received from the device. Parents who own the cell phones that their children carry have the right to monitor or track any information pertaining to that device. Husbands and wives, in most cases, are able to track one anothers’ texts and messages because both of their names appear on the account or user agreement. Once again, normally, the only person who can track a device is the person the device is registered to or its owner.

Law enforcement agencies are only allowed to track texts, instant messages, emails, and other electronic transmissions when they are given permission to. Permission must be received from either the owner of the device or a subpoena or warrant that has been signed by a judge. They cannot intercept private messages from a user’s phone unless they have just cause to do so.

Tracking text messages, emails and phone calls has a purpose, in some instances. It is illegal for someone to track another’s texts unless they have a legal right to do so. With the recent technological advancements, people can track almost anything from any type of device as long as an app is available. While it may be fun to break into another person’s phone and read, delete or create various messages, it is illegal and can result in jail time and heavy fines if a person is caught. A person’s right to privacy is extremely important. Violating that right is a crime and, in some cases, may be punishable on a federal level.

In the United States, the physical threat to another person’s health or safety is illegal. Tracking the text message back to the sender can result in their arrest and subsequent incarceration for federal FCC violations.