Monthly Archives: March 2012

Warrantless Tracking Decision Giving FBI Headaches

We’ve provided extensive coverage on the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the use of a GPS device to monitor and track the movements of suspected criminals. If you haven’t been following along, this started when Antoine Jones, a convicted drug dealer, challenged the court’s conviction after being found guilty, based on evidence collected with a GPS device affixed to his vehicle. The Supreme Court decided unanimously, back in January, that law enforcement should not be allowed to use a GPS trackingdevice in this way without first obtaining a warrant.

Objections with this decision are now coming from the FBI who must deactivate a multitude of these tracking devices in certain investigations, according to FBI director Robert Mueller. He says they must now conduct physical surveillance of such suspects, stretching resources thin. “Putting a physical surveillance team out with six, eight, 12 persons is tremendously time intensive,” he says, adding that the ruling “will inhibit our ability to use this in a number of surveillances where it has been tremendously beneficial.”

The exact number of the devices which were deactivated has not been released, but it is known that the FBI possesses 3,000 GPS devices; information which was released by the FBI’s general counsel a couple of weeks ago at a law school conference. According to Mueller, “we have a number of people in the United States who we could not indict, there’s not probable cause to indict them or to arrest them who present a threat of terrorism, articulated maybe up on the internet, may have purchased a gun, but taken no particular steps to make a terrorist act…and we are stuck in the position of surveilling that person for a substantial period of time.” He claims the GPS trackers “enabled us to utilize resources elsewhere.”

He assures they are complying with the court’s ruling, and adds that they will only allow GPS monitoring of suspects in cases where it can legally be done. This is comforting, as the majority of citizens feel that this is taking the investigation process to a whole new, uneasy level. Its Big Brother-like feel is most likely what led the court to reach their decision in the matter. An ACLU lawyer, Catherine Crump, says that authorities’ claims of any investigation being affected adversely by the need to obtain a warrant to conduct GPS surveillance are “unfounded, as many law enforcement agencies routinely obtain such approval for GPS tracking.”

Have an opinion on this case? Comment below and let us know if you support the court’s decision, or the idea that the FBI will suffer from the ruling’s requirements.

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LightSquared Goes Out Swinging

LightSquared is pulling out all the stops in the lengthy battle over spectrum space andGPS interferenceLightSquared‘s case has been crumbling since the FCC‘s testing ruled that their powerful broadband signals would interfere with GPS receivers. The U.S. military, emergency response, aviation and farming industries, not to mention the thousands of personal GPS devices, all rely on GPS signals, and LightSquared‘s business plan was determined to be too much of a threat to these critical industries. Despite LightSquared’s cries of foul play, this decision eventually led Sprint to terminate a very lucrative contract with the company.

LightSquared recently filed an official rebuttal addressing the FCC’s decision to withdraw their conditional approval to develop the broadband network. Analysts are suggesting that this rebuttal, which was submitted on the final day of the latest comment period (March 16, 2012), could be foreshadowing plans to take the FCC to court. In the statement, LightSquared executive Jeff Carlisle mentioned “enormous and quantifiable… damages to LightSquared resulting from the Commission’s breach of its agreement with LightSquared and its violation of LightSquared’s constitutional rights.”

The company’s claims of wrong-doing are bold, if not confusing. The agreement Carlisle is referring to was a conditional approval granted by the FCC. The condition being that LightSquared’s terrestrial network did not cause significant interference for the nearby GPS constellation. The FCC did perform tests which concluded that interference was an issue, but LightSquared has since claimed that the testing was biased and suspicious. In his statement, the LightSquared executive claims that “no scientifically valid evidence exists that even 1% of GPS receivers would experience adverse performance consequences as a result of LightSquared’s operations, as currently proposed.” The FCC has extended the final round of comments, which will remain open until March 30, 2012.

Gas Prices on the Rise? Try GasBuddy

Will turning on the news ever get any easier? After a brief respite, gas prices have once again shot through the ceiling, sending consumers into a tailspin. What factors are contributing to this gas price hike? Most importantly, how can your GPS help you fight the high cost of commuting? Thanks to the phenomenal innovation provided by GasBuddy, your GPS might just be the tool you’re looking for.

Gas Prices in An Upward Tailspin The problem, analysts say, is Libya. More deeply, analysts pinpoint the problem as fear. The Arab Spring and the continued, seemingly endless twists and turns in the region’s recent problems and unrest have put the gas industry in a serious state of insecurity. Markets rise and fall on fear. When fear is present, as it is now in the crude oil industry, then prices go up.

Can GPS Technology Help? What does your GPS tracker have to do with the price of crude oil in Libya? Believe it or not, your GPS can help. Think it through: How do you select which gas station you take your vehicle to? Is it proximity, the closest gas station to your home? Is it the cheapest gas station you can find off the highway? Have you performed an absolutely comprehensive search for the cheapest gas in town? What if your GPS could do it for you?

What is GasBuddy? GasBuddy.com and the apps that support it are devoted to providing consumers with free information on the cheapest gas in their region. Just punch up the app, turn on your GPS, and the app will find the nearest, cheapest gas available.

Savings Are Off The Beaten Path Have you ever noticed that gas prices are higher at gas stations that are right off the highway? Have you ever wondered if the cheapest gas stations are located where you, as well as most other consumers, cannot find them? That’s where GasBuddy comes in: It is an easy way to utilize the GPS device in your smart phone to find the least expensive gas near you.

Simple Innovations Provide Economic Change Nothing has pulled back the curtain on how we spend our money like the smart phone revolution and the crowd funded apps that followed. GasBuddy eliminates one of the key factors in finding a store front—location, location, location—and points customers at the cheapest prices in town. It’s just another example of how your GPS can help you fight the high cost of commuting.

It Just Got Easier to Monitor Your Health Progress

In the burgeoning days of computer technology, it seemed like geeks ruled. Now, as technology takes over the American life, it’s for everybody. Geek is chic, and nothing says chic like a well put together workout regimen. Since 2007, a social network called RunKeeper has helped keep the geeks in our life fit and trim, helping bring runners together and cultivate love for exercise, all while translating that love into zeroes and ones and putting them on the Internet. Now RunKeeper has announced a whopping nine new partnerships with other app developers and services, positioning the start-up into what may become the first online fitness powerhouse.

What is RunKeeper? RunKeeper is simple; it tracks your runs. On your smart phone or tablet, specialized apps utilize your phone’s GPS trackers and help to pinpoint your progress. Even some wristwatch GPS sports trackers plug into the social network, allowing you to track your running progress and meet your fitness goals. The service has been around for going on five years. They’ve been running for a long time.

One App to Rule Them All RunKeeper just announced partnerships with a whopping nine online services. Those services include Clever Run, Coachya, Fleetly, Nexercise, Scosche MyTrek, Vitogo, Weighty, Pedometer Ultimate, and Cycle Log. These apps run the gamut from games to social networking to pedometers and weight tracking.

Unity Begets Function These partnership may form a boom for RunTracker. No company has really stood out from the crowd as the online exercise resource. GPS tracking technology is just now starting to be applied at a consumer level for sports recording and training.

Function Begets a Healthier America No doubt RunKeeper’s goals include a fitter, healthier, happier America. By transforming the Internet into a place where strangers can get fit together, the opportunity is there to really have a positive impact on America’s health. The individuals responsible for RunKeeper’s successful negotiations are likely very hopeful that this simple social network may have a profound effect on American health.

Geek chic means total health. Utilizing social networking, as well as the GPS tracking devices on your phone or even your watch, helps measure workouts with a precision the average American has never known. Only time will tell how social networking and GPS devices will change health in the US.

Escaped Parolee in Queensland Raises Questions About GPS Tracking

It’s the same old story: When a criminal is released from prison, society must take great care to believe in that convict’s rehabilitation. But how do you keep that individual in check?

GPS technology has long been suggested as a solution for tracking individuals on parole. The technology, proponents say, would not only deter future criminal acts, but protect citizens in the event that the parolee snaps back into his or her former life of crime. Queensland, Australia has become a proving ground for GPS tracking of paroled individuals. It looks as if the program has hit a bump in the road, however.

Escape and Assault
Andrew Clive Ellis, a convicted sex offender, recently broke out of a low security facility in Queensland. He reportedly cut his GPS tracker off before escaping. He then allegedly assaulted a woman almost immediately afterward. He was caught quickly, but the assault and the mad chase to get the criminal back into custody has Australians wondering if GPS tracking is worth the time and expense.

GPS Tracking for Sex Offenders in Question
Some law enforcement officials involved with the Andrew Clive Ellis situation still defend the use of GPS trackers. They say that while the technology is not foolproof, it provides added protection for citizens. Deterrents say that if the device is so easily removable, then what is the point of spending money on GPS tracking in the first place?

Potential GPS Tracking in Canada
Much buzz has centered around GPS tracking of sex offenders in Canada. No doubt law enforcement officials, legal professionals, sociologists and psychologists are paying close attention to the effectiveness of GPS tracking in Australia. Could the United States be the next nation to pilot GPS tracking of criminals on parole? Is that legally tenable in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision requiring a warrant for clandestine GPS tracking of potential criminals during an undercover investigation?

Would GPS Tracking Be an Effective Deterrent for Criminals on Parole?
Many questions remain unanswered. Is GPS tracking effective for criminals on parole? Is it a crime deterrent? Does it move the rehabilitation process forward? Does it facilitate reintegration of the parolee back into society, or does it foster “a sleeping giant” of repressed criminal activity? These questions will likely never find hard answers. Technology can never rehabilitate, but it can hopefully facilitate crime prevention.

Failure to Launch: A Delay in Crucial GPS Fleet Tracking in India

Ensuring safe kerosene delivery in Nashik, India has been a long and arduous process for the people of Nashik. Pune based company Science and Technology Park (STP) has come under fire, accused by dealers of installing faulty GPS systems and refusing to fix them.

The Problem
Fleet tracking is a basic task, and integration of GPS devices on to stateside travelling fleets is becoming quite commonplace. It is, in fact, one of the key business applications of GPS technology. In an apparent uphill battle that may involve gangster elements in India, the application of GPS trackers to the kerosene fleets coming out of Manmad depot seemed like a good idea.

In Nashik, STP came to several dealers trucking kerosene and sold GPS tracking as an easy way to ensure proper delivery. This is regarded as a fairly standard solution to a common business problem. However, the initiative was tangled in red tape for over two years.

A Horrifying Call to Action
Kerosene dealers and regulators were spurred to action by a terrifying incident: Yashwant Sonawane, a collector, was burned alive. Rumors abound that the act may have been gangster related. This spurred the industry as a whole to apply GPS technology to Manmad depot’s kerosene truck fleet.

Shoddy Execution?
A standard business problem, and a common business solution; Science and Technology Park offered the same GPS fleet tracking package that is commonly seen in truck fleets around the world. The problem, apparently, is that they did not work. The GPS devices would constantly malfunction, to the chagrin of drivers and fleet managers.

How did Science and Technology Park respond to the problem? According to dealers, they didn’t. All 57 kerosene tanker trucks coming out of Manmad depot were installed, and most of them allegedly failed. Follow-up inspections found that a little over a third of the devices were functional. Government officials directed the dealers to repair the GPS devices and provide the operational costs.

A Tough Analysis
Whatever is going on out at Manmad depot, the situation is not working. Trucks are not running efficiently, GPS trackers are not working, and no one appears to be happy. A number of factors are present that are impossible to analyze. The story, however, is a fascinating one, allegedly involving the mafia, explosive elements, and possible criminal duplicity.

British Columbia Introduces GPS Tracking for Ferries

Over 600,000 people call Vancouver Island home, and the majority of those people rely on ferries that run back and forth from the mainland on a daily basis. As BC Ferries is a Crown Corporation (meaning it is government owned, but run like a private business, in that it has no obligation to inform the public of every little move it makes), it has not been required to keep the people as informed as a government owned business would. This hasn’t stopped the Ferry system from making its presence known on social media sites, or trying to keep customers informed of exactly what to expect in regards to the ferry schedule.

 

Data will be gathered thanks to GPS tracking devices installed on each ferry, with updates occurring every two minutes. Not exactly real-time GPS tracking, but it still provides ferry riders with useful information. Customers can head to the BC Ferries website to see the list of ferries operating that day by name showing their destination, speed, and heading. If the information is accessed with a desktop computer, the user can position the mouse over any of the ship icons on the map (which is an arrow that points in the direction of the ship’s heading) and all of the ship information pops up. There is a mobile interface as well, but it doesn’t have the same pop-up menu feature. If you wish to see a ship’s ETA, there is a separate section of their website designated for that information.

 

The availability of this GPS tracking information is great news for anyone who uses BC’s ferries, and will help keep customers informed of any mechanical troubles or inclement weather. Just think: you are getting ready to leave for work and check the ferry’s ETA, only to see that it is temporarily down for maintenance. The site says exactly when to expect service to return as usual, so you are able to call your boss ahead of time, rather than from the station, and you can wait right at home instead of in an uncomfortable seat in the waiting area.

 

Is the addition of fleet tracking devices to the ferries just not enough for you? Receive alerts on the status of departures via BC Ferries’ Facebook page or Twitter account and cover all the bases of staying informed up-to-the-minute.

Can GPS Help Confirm Shrinking Glaciers?

With the dangerous nature of research in remote glacial areas, a GPS device is a very welcome addition to the tools a researcher relies on to safely study the icy masses. The window of time one has to study such an area is short, only a few months. Once the researcher gets used to the conveniences available with a GPS device when on a glacial expedition, he or she won’t be able to set out without it.

GPS devices play an important part in aiding the task of collecting data and measurements of an area. However, the nature of glaciological studies make it imperative that the researcher collect data the old-fashioned way, in the field, to assure the data is completely accurate.

Researchers in the Bhutan area of the Himalayas conducted a field survey to test whether or not a GPS device would gather accurate data to aid them in quickly and accurately collecting data in the short period of time they are allotted. According to glaciologist Dr. Takayuki Nuimaura, “We used specialized GPS and their temporary networks for acquiring high accurate topographic data of glaciers and glacier lakes. The measurement error of the locations (longitude, latitude and altitude) are tens to hundreds times smaller than common GPS, which in recent years have been attached to cell phone and car navigation systems.”

Glacial data was collected using GPS in order to calculate temporal elevation changes. The new data collected was compared to old topographic data, and Nuimaura says the change concludes the glacier in question is indeed shrinking. “The temporal change in elevation of the glacier shows the lowering value of glacier surface.” This data would otherwise be impossible to collect without help from the GPS device. The data collected by the GPS device also shows the outline of the glacial lake and can compare change over time in the same way as with the glacier, pointing out any change in its area.

Nuimaura points out the GPS coordinates gathered by the satellites are not always 100% accurately positioned. “Each satellite includes inherent biases. Those biases prevent accurate estimation of the temporal changes of the positional information of an object. Therefore, we measured high accuracy positional information data using GPS for one second each (a significant portion of my hard disk of the PC is occupied by satellite and GPS data!). The data were converted to digital topographic data for calibrating satellite data as references.”

Nuimaura says that as wonderfully convenient a tool as the GPS equipment is, a great deal of effort is still required to trek around the glacier to collect data as accurately as possible. He credits the younger Phuntsho Tshering with doing the majority of the work in the field for this survey, which was conducted in autumn of 2011.

Ready to Check-In? Try Walkbase

There’s a new app in town, and it hopes to dethrone Foursquare and perhaps even Facebook as the most prominent location-based social networking tool available. The app is called Walkspace, and its developers believe they have solved some of the most inconvenient aspects of online location check-in. Do you want your friends to know what restaurant you’re trying tonight, but would rather save the GPS tracking abilities on your phone for more important tasks? Perhaps Walkbase is for you.

A GPS-Free Approach
What is the purpose of the GPS device on your phone? Is it really social networking? Certainly the most popular and direct application of your iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, RIM, or tablet’s GPS capabilities is in navigation. You pop your phone on the cradle of your vehicle’s dashboard, speak your destination, and start rolling. Many individuals that treasure social networking love the check in features of Foursquare and Facebook. The problem is that these services check location utilizing smart phone or tablet GPS trackers often result in a battery drain. Walkbase uses a Wi-Fi or local internet connection to determine the location the user desires to check-in from.

Location Services Without Tracking
Phone GPS trackers were not originally designed as social networking tools. The social networking aspect was an outgrowth of a user base excited about the new technologies promised by easy, ultra-portable GPS tracking. However, many users also find GPS tracking on phones essential for other tasks. Frustrated social networking fanatics may just switch off the GPS to save it for the drive home. Walkspace seeks to eliminate the need for GPS tracking in order to check in online.

Will Super Wi-Fi Eliminate GPS Check-In?
Many that follow the evolving consumer need for Wi-Fi are excited about Super Wi-Fi, which may be the next step in the mobile network evolution. Major cell phone carriers are buying up radio frequencies once used by broadcast television. The potential is there to turn those waves into broadcast Internet, giving the United States a super fast Wi-Fi network. This may happen sooner than you think. When it does, the potential is there for Walkspace to simply eliminate the need for Foursquare and other GPS, battery-draining applications.

Tech moves faster than a rocket. Walkspace has the potential not only to capitalize on emerging technologies, but allow smartphone-based GPS users to focus on navigation. If Walkspace lightens the load on smartphone batteries, then that GPS tracking device on your phone may last longer.

Canada Clarifies GPS Tracking in Law Enforcement

In the GPS community, everyone is talking about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the guidelines when using GPS in law enforcement. When police secretly tagged a suspected drug dealer’s vehicle with a tracker, then used the resulting data to charge him with a crime, they set in motion a legal battle that has had international effects.

The final verdict states that in order to place a GPS tracking device on an individual’s private property, U.S. officers must first obtain a warrant from a judge. According to the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court justices, attaching a device to an item owned by someone is an unlawful violation of their privacy, unless there is already sufficient evidence of guilt to justify a search warrant. Police departments around the nation will certainly be scrambling to update their policies and ensure that their use of GPS tracking complies with the legal clarification.

Canada’s legal code is actually slightly ahead of the United States in addressing the use of GPS in law enforcement. The law already has a section on tracking, stating clearly that officers must get a special “tracking warrant” before using an electronic device to follow an individual’s movements. It also provides guidelines for the use of those devices. For example, a tracking warrant has a sixty-day lifetime; after which it must be reviewed to determine whether its use is still legal. Police must also show that there is a high probability of gaining evidence by the use of a tracker before the warrant is issued.

The idea of the government using GPS tracking to find out what citizens are up to has, not surprisingly, sparked public debate. Some make the case that if you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t need to be afraid of what police might find out about you. Others, however, are strongly opposed to giving law enforcement the right to watch them without their knowledge. The restriction or expansion of GPS tracker use by law enforcement agencies will likely be unpredictable during the first few years of its widespread availability. The debate is sure to be lively, and will probably include quite a few more legal battles like the one that was recently decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.