Monthly Archives: February 2012
There is no denying the impact GPS technology has had on the world. GPS trackingdevices have helped scientists monitor remote wildlife, emergency response teams save lives, and air traffic control navigate the skies. With all the good, it can be easy to lose track of the creepier, more complex consequences of GPS. Unfortunately, the creepy potential is all too familiar to one Ontario local. “I was doing just a regular inspection my truck and I found this black box under my truck … with flashing lights inside,” explained Warsaw, Ont. resident Ben Ferrill. “I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know if it was a bomb. We were scared to death …. It felt like a movie — unreal.”
“We spent lots of nights up until three in the morning crying and talking about it — not sleeping and looking out the windows and being suspicious of vehicles that drive by,” he explained. “Are they following me? Are they watching me? Are they going to try to do something to me? Are they going to try to do something to our family? The fear in finding something like that is unreal.”
Monitoring someone’s movements with a GPS tracking device without their knowledge is illegal. The only exception being for police with a search warrant obtained from a judge. Ferrill contacted police about the device, but they weren’t much help. “The trouble is, we don’t know who is behind this,” said Ferrill’s attorney Ian Wilson. “I’ve also tried to get answers from Kore Wireless and their lawyer but they will tell me nothing,” he continued.
Kore Wireless were even less helpful than the police. “Our customer [U.S. Fleet] is in the United States. They have no responsibility or accountability to provide that information [to Canadian police],” said Alex Brisborn, president of Kore Wireless. The company claims to hold privacy as one of their highest values, and are unwilling to cooperate with police in cases where their customers may be using their product illegally.
“U.S. Fleet Tracking will not under any circumstance make your information or any data specific to your vehicle tracking account available to any third party — including local, state or federal law enforcement authorities … Even if presented with a court order, we promise to fight the courts to keep these information private and respect the privacy of our paying customers,” according to the U.S. Fleet website.
“It’s extremely frustrating to know that [customer] information exists in the U.S. somewhere … and we simply can’t get at it,” said Wilson. “This is a changing environment and steps have to be taken to protect people,” he concludes.
The U.S. Supreme Court, earlier this year, declared that tracking a suspect without a warrant is unconstitutional and in violation of citizens’ Fourth Amendment right to privacy. The decision was seen as a relief to some, and a burden to others. Law enforcement, in particular, are scrambling to determine what constitutes legal use of GPS tracking technology. A couple of bills are floating around the Virginia Senate and House to remedy the lack of legal guidelines around this new technology. Recently, one of these bills gained some traction in the form of sponsoring by Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania).
Reeves, a former police detective, backed the bill which explicitly requires police to obtain a warrant from a judge or magistrate before attaching a GPS tracking device to a suspect’s vehicle. “It just holds law enforcement accountable for that,” explained Reeves. The original bill was significantly revised by members of the Senate Courts of Justice committee. These changes take into account the difficulties of getting a warrant in rural parts of the country, allowing law enforcement to get warrants from circuit judges and general district judges. Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) explains, “In rural jurisdiction, that could put some burdens on the system.” Meaning that outside of cities, a circuit judge might not be available or have to recuse him or herself if the warrant is subject to a challenge.
Another major adjustment to the bill was made in regards to notifying the suspect. In most search warrant cases, the suspect is able to view the warrant at the time police conduct the home or vehicle search. GPS tracking, however, is most effective when done without the suspect’s knowledge. Under the revised bill, the suspect is granted a copy of the warrant within 10 days after the tracking is complete. The bill is currently waiting on a decision from the full Senate.
The fine folks over at Planned Parenthood are bringing a whole new meaning to social media status updates. The controversial organization kicked-off National Condom Week, which fittingly shares the week with Valentine’s Day, by distributing GPS tracking enabled condoms. Planned Parenthoods across the nation have started handing out free condoms with QR codes imprinted. By scanning the codes, people can anonymously celebrate the place and time they smartly knocked boots.
The website chronicling these activities is called WhereDidYouWearIt.com. Users can share their activity by filling in their information on the website, or scanning the QR code on the condom. Addresses are not saved or posted. The “Where Did You Where It” system generates an approximate location to display on a map available on the site. The program combines safe sex messages, social media and GPS tracking technology into one. The website sums it up nicely. “Did you just use a condom to protect yourself against unintended pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections? You go, tiger! Sex that (is) safe, should be shared.”
“We hope the site promotes discussions within relationships about condoms and helps to remove perceived stigmas that some people may have about condom use. Where Did You Wear It attempts to create some fun around making responsible decisions,” explained Nathan Engebretson, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest’s new media coordinator.
As can be expected with any topic having to do with sex, the program has stirred up quite a bit of criticism. Some people claim that sexual activity shouldn’t be logged with GPS tracking and displayed online, even anonymously. Others have raised concerns that Planned Parenthood is promoting sex, which they fear will increase unplanned pregnancy and abortion. The organization includes a disclaimer on the site to address concerns. “Of course, abstinence from sexual activity is the only sure way to prevent both pregnancy and the spread of STDs. But remember: Sex happens. We’re not encouraging you to have sex or not have sex. We’re just encouraging people to be safer in their activities.”
If you’re paying attention, history is unfolding right before our eyes. In the coming years, high school students will learn about the technology boom which produced amazing technology that allows us to carry hand-held computers in our pockets, and pinpoint the exact location of said devices with satellite technology. Just as previous generations learned about Roe v. Wade or Miranda v. Arizona, history teachers will be covering the 2012 ruling of U.S. v. Jones, dictating the legality of tracking suspects with a GPS device.
In this historic case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that law enforcement must obtain a warrant, providing probable cause before using GPS technology to monitor the suspects movements. The ruling meant throwing out key evidence obtained in order to convict Antoine Jones, a suspected D.C. drug king pin. More than that, it reinforced the system of checks and balances, which is critical to our country’s core values: individual liberty and justice for all.
Leading up to the case, judges all over the country heard similar cases involving evidence obtained from GPS tracking devices, with and without a warrant. Legal teams are scrambling to get their rulings overturned in appeals courts. The Supreme Court Judges were quite clear that a warrant is required before tracking suspects with a GPS device, but other than that, the legal waters around this technology remain murky. Although the judges agreed unanimously that the evidence used to convict Jones was inadmissible, they released three very different opinions on the case regarding the dangers and benefits of GPS tracking.
A couple of bills are floating through the various states, including Virginia’s House and Senate, to clarify the legal use of GPS tracking. In the meantime, the FBI has reportedly turned off around 3,000 GPS tracking devices attached to suspects vehicles illegally. In some cases, agents have requested special exceptions to turn the devices back on, only to locate and retrieve the expensive equipment. This case is a perfect example of our ever-evolving legal system, and how the courts can be used to protect individual rights from the powers of government.
One of the many industries GPS tracking technology has revolutionized is the fitness industry. More specifically, GPS tracking devices are being developed to help people monitor their workout routines. While a personal trainer is still helpful in providing feedback about one’s form while exercising, workout apps and similar devices provide real-time pace, distance, and elevation data. Over time, these programs can show how the user is progressing, as well as provide helpful feedback about where he or she could improve. There are dozens of apps and devices on the market for runners and cyclists, but Finis Hydro Tracker GPS is one of the first apps designed with swimmers in mind.
The Hydro Tracker GPS works in the same way running or cycling GPS apps work, by charting the movements of the user. In fact, although it was designed for swimmers, it also doubles and triples as a running or cycling GPS tracking system. While in water, the tracking device can be attached to the swimmer’s goggles and is protected by a waterproof casing thin enough to receive GPS signals. The device also comes with an arm band to track any kind of activity, like running, skiing, cycling, and hiking.
The fact that the Hydro Tracker GPS can monitor activity in or out of water is what really makes this product stand apart. The feedback provided by these types of applications not only helps experienced athletes perfect their routines, but also provides great motivation for people who are moderately active at a beginner or intermediate level. The GPS tracking technology turns what can sometimes be mundane and/or difficult workouts, into a sort of game. Users can compare statistics and easily keep track of their best times and distances, for some quick motivation when feeling like progress is slow. The Finis Hydro Tracker GPS is available for $129.99 on Finis’ website.
The American Golf Club in Vero Beach, Florida recently installed Digital Caddies GPS system for its patrons. We’ve seen apps and GPS tracking devices developed to collect data for runners, cyclists, and even swimmers. Now, Digital Caddies GPS is offering the same type of service for golfers. As just about any sports enthusiast will tell you, a big part of the fun is tracking and comparing performance statistics. The GPS tracking system provided by Digital Caddies allows all golfers, at any level of experience, to track their shots and monitor progress.
Golf is one of the U.S.’ most popular hobbies. With thousands of courses to choose from, it is important for individual golf courses to set themselves apart. In order to stay competitive, many golf courses are designed around location and stunning geography, surrounded by mountains, forests, or on a cliffside overlooking the ocean. The American Golf Club near Vero Beach, FL not only boasts three gorgeous 9-hole courses with breath-taking views, but also takes a technological advantage with Digital Caddies GPS system. Navigating sand-traps and water hazards is a big part of any quality golf course, and what better technology to turn to, than GPS?
“Helping golfers play better golf and providing a service that helps the golf course differentiate itself from its competition is the core value of our service,” explained Brad Nightingale, Digital Caddies CEO. “Our system is a great fit for the American Golf Club and their strategy of offering great value to their customers.” Guests using the Digital Caddies system will be able to enjoy easy-to-use, real-time data about their game. The GPS tracking system provided by Digital Caddies provides accurate yardage information, just like if you were playing in a professional tournament. Not only is the system great for improving one’s game, but also in providing indisputable data during friendly competition with other players.
t’s official. Last week President Barak Obama signed legislation requiring the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to switch from radar to GPS technology. The accuracy provided by GPS technology is unbeatable, especially when compared with the decades-old radar system. The bill met some opposition from union groups, but ultimately was signed into law. The primary purpose of the legislation is to modernize air traffic control in the U.S., in order to improve safety and also reduce costs for the aviation industry and passengers alike.
“This critical effort to shift from our antiquated air traffic control technology to a GPS-based system will improve air traffic efficiency and safety, reduce fuel burn and pollution from aircraft, and bring costs down for consumers,” said Rep. John Mica (R-FL), the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman. No one can contest the importance of improving air traffic safety. The bill also called for new rules dictating union organizing elections for railroads and airlines, which was not met well by the Teamsters, Machinists, Flight Attendants, and Communications Workers.
Despite some bumps in the road, including a two-week shut down of the FAA, while the bill was awaiting approval in the Senate, the plans for modernization are now law. Under this legislation, the FAA is entitled to $63.4 billion over the next four years, $11 billion of which is to be used to implement the air traffic system with GPS technology. The FAA has until June of 2015 to establish new arrival procedures for the 35 busiest airports in the U.S.
“This new technology will help reduce delays, give controllers better tools with which to perform their jobs even more efficiently and provide a platform for further technological and safety enhancements,” said Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. The FAA is also required to find a way to permit unmanned drone aircrafts to share airspace with cargo planes, airliners, private aircraft, and business jets by the end of September 2015.
We’ve all seen it: cops turning on their sirens briefly to run a red light, double parking, parking in the red, or highway patrol flying past your speed-limit abiding vehicle. We may want to give the officer in question the benefit of the doubt, assuming there’s some justification for law-breaking, but don’t feel bad if you assumed the worst.
A recent investigation conducted by the Sun Sentinel revealed nearly 800 officers from several law enforcement agencies driving 90 to 130 mph over the course of 13 months. What makes matters worse, is many of the speeding occurred while the officers were off-duty, commuting to and from work, according the the GPS tracking information gathered from the vehicles. Hypocrisy is a hard pill to swallow, and it can be incredibly frustrating to see a cop doing 90 on the freeway, knowing that you’d get a fat fine for the same behavior.
The eye-opening study provoked police chiefs in South Florida to crack down on speeding cops. “At the very least, the most severe ones are going to lose their [take-home] car right now,” he explained. “If you don’t address the problem and you don’t hand out significant discipline with it … then the message is it’s OK. This is not OK.”
“They need to be held accountable for their actions and disciplined accordingly if they break the law,” said Davie Mayor Judy Paul. Speeding police vehicles have been responsible for at least 320 crashes since 2004, resulting in 19 deaths, seven of whom were officers. The police departments have been rather lax on speeding cops in the past, issuing written reminders to obey traffic laws rather than speeding tickets. “If it can’t be justified, it can’t be tolerated,” Said Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti. “We’re not above the law, and if we’re going to enforce the law, we have to obey it.”
Some of the proposed solutions include ticketing officers who break the law, and programing the GPS tracking devices on the cars to notify the department when the vehicle reaches a certain speed. Sunrise Commissioner Sheila Alu, a state prosecutor, takes a strong stand on the issue. “You can’t hide the fact that some officers are abusing the law,” she said. “We need to get our head out of the sand.”