Three Controversial Uses of GPS Tracking

22 Sep

GPS tracking is an amazing technology that evolves constantly for new uses beyond navigation. The law enforcement community and businesses have begun using GPS tracking in ways that worry privacy experts.

Because GPS tracking allows someone to unobtrusively monitor a vehicle in real time, some question if the practice is ethical.

Monitoring Devices

Nicole Ritchie had one because she drove drunk. Lindsey Loan wore one during rehab and after for her legal problems related to substance abuse. Football star Michael Vick wore a bracelet after he got out of prison for his role in a dog-fighting ring.

The criminal justice system commonly uses GPS monitoring devices to track individuals on probation, parole or house arrest for a variety of crimes. In several states, registered sex offenders are required to wear a tracking bracelet even if they are no longer under state supervision.

These monitoring devices are designed to be intrusive. While someone convicted of a crime may prefer electronic monitoring, it is not a foolproof system. If someone removes the bracelet or if its battery is not charged, the bracelet is useless.

Sex offenders who are no longer under any sort of legal restriction are not likely to be inclined to keep the bracelet on and in working order. This leads some members of the public to question if it is cost-effective or even useful to continuing this monitoring.

Fleet Tracking

What is fleet tracking? When a business has multiple vehicles driven by employees, it often installs GPS tracking on each vehicle. Aside from the obvious benefit of routing vehicles and locating them if stolen, employers are using the trackers to increase worker productivity.

With GPS tracking, businesses can tell how fast employees drive, the number of times the vehicle has stopped, as well as the location. Because employers can purchase systems that broadcast in real time, they immediately know when an employee spends an excessive time at a service call, parked in one location or on lunch break. Employees may not like this tracking, but most employers inform employees. Employees are free to accept the policy or find other employment.

Under Cover Surveillance

Police have conducted surveillance on criminal suspects for years. Previously, most surveillance relied on someone following someone and taking photographs or video. Now, a person can be under surveillance without someone physically following them. Courts have ruled that police don’t need a warrant to place GPS tracking devices on the vehicle of a person of interest.

If someone parks a car and goes inside a building, police or anyone else can place a small tracking device under the bumper or in some other location not highly visible. From this device, they may be able to track the vehicle in real time. On other occasions, police retrieve the device the same way they placed it and then have location data to use. Expect continued court battles over whether this type of surveillance continues to be possible without a warrant.

Any technology has benefits and drawbacks. GPS tracking is no different. We have security of mind knowing we have directions to our next destination. Unfortunately, the same device allows others to identify where we are going and when. A balance of safety and privacy is important in the use of this technology.

Peggy Crippen, a guest blogger, regularly writes about business and technology, including GPS tracking.


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2 responses to “Three Controversial Uses of GPS Tracking

  1. Steve Hopper

    September 23, 2011 at 1:38 am

    Very interesting indeed.


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