Many people have heard about GPS car tracking, but they don’t even consider seeking out more information on the topic. They might be intimidated, thinking that you have to have tons of technical experience and knowledge in order to even get a device like this out of its packaging. Another might dismiss the concept out of hand, thinking that they would never have a use for this ability. Still others might think that setting up a GPS tracking system for their car will cost an arm and leg, putting them in the poor house by just considering the option. Well, for those people I would invite you to read on as I consider 10 reasons why you might want to get over your immediate rejections and give GPS car tracking chance.
1. Car tracking is cheaper than you think.
Sure, there is some forms of car tracking that are going to cost you an arm and a leg. The portable GPS tracking device is going to cost you $100s and you will have to pay a significant tracking fee each month if you want to use the device to its full potential. This is the situation that most people think about when they think about tracking a car and it is expensive.
But there are cheaper alternatives. Cell phones make great tracking devices. For under $50 you could get a cell phone, install some of the free GPS tracking software on it (see our list of free GPS tracking cell phone applications and software for providers), and your phone is now a car tracker. You still have to pay a monthly subscription, but at least you get to make phone calls now too. You can even hardwire the phone so that you have power to your phone at all times giving you real time, 24/7 tracking.
2. Teens benefit from having a tracking device installed in the car.
Teens are crappy drivers. They speed, take unnecessary risks, and make stupid decisions about how to drive. But when we are in the car with them, they make great decisions and drive like angels. By putting a GPS tracking device in their car you will be letting you teen know that you are there with them even if you aren’t in the passenger seat.
This way, if they break the driving rules you can crack down on them and help them take driving safely seriously. More teens die every year from car accidents than any other cause, so ensuring that our children drive safely is a top priority of parents across the nation.
3. GPS car tracking keeps spouses honest about their whereabouts.
Cheating sucks, and secrecy only lets cheating go on indefinitely. With GPS car tracking you can ensure that your actions and the actions of your spouse are made clear to the other. All actions must be accounted for and this will make communication between spouses open, honest, and verifiable.
GPS tracking for cars should never be used as a substitute for good communication or marriage counseling, but it can really help some people who suffer from serious trust issues. Obviously if their trust issues are big enough there is no amount of GPS that is going to fix that, so make sure the whole marriage or relationship is being looked at as well.
4. GPS tracking is great to have in case of an emergency.
We recently wrote an article about how using GPS vehicle tracking can save lives and this really is true. Imagine how useful it would be to have an exact location to give emergency personnel who are responding to your husband’s heart attach as he sits on the site of the Interstate. Or imagine how easy it would be to help your frantic, lost spouse find their way to a familiar place if you could see their exact location on a Google Map. This is the power of car GPS tracking and it makes a lot of sense to have something set up for a circumstance just like this. Onstar is the commercial product for this, but you can easily make your own Onstar system with a cell phone.
5. GPS tracking devices double as a theft recovery devices.
If a car gets stolen when it has a real time tracker installed you can use it as a theft recovery GPS. All you do it find out the location of the vehicle and hand that over to authorities. Heck, you could even give them your login information so that they can track the vehicle themselves. Then, a few hours later you can be happy to know that the thief is in custody and your car will be returned to you shortly. Now that is peace of mind.
6. They are fun.
If you are a geek (like me) you will find having the ability to look at where you have driven on a map incredibly fun and satisfying. All that data is just waiting to played with and all you have to do is log into your account and you have access to it all. But the fun doesn’t end there. There is also GPS art or GPS tracking for pets that can occupy your time as well if you feel up to the challenge.
7. A GPS tracking system is educational and can be used to teach kids important information.
Math. Space. Electronics. These are all things that a GPS can do to help children learn about the world around them. While in order to teach kids these things through your GPS car tracking system, it is probably good information for you to know as well. Simple things like trilateration, geosynchronous orbit, and chip technology are all words and concepts that people of all ages and education levels can and should learn about.
8. They are really convenient.
We have already seen how these device can be the difference between life and death, but they can also help provide us with all sorts of convenient information as well. If you have a question like, “I wonder where my wife is at with her errands today?” all you would have to do is log onto your online GPS tracking account and see exactly where she is. The same is true of fathers coming home from work, or teens traveling to a friends house, or a family member taking a long road trip to visit. The information isn’t necessary, its just convenient to know and can be easily accessed from a computer.
9. GPS can help you fight a speeding ticket.
Police are out to get speeder because it increases city revenue and that is part of the police’s duty. But we also know that the methods police use to identify speeder is shoddy at best. Car GPS tracking systems are, on the other hand, not shoddy at all and provide very accurate speed information. If you can take your tracking information to court with you from your GPS tracking system then you are almost certainly going to be able to successfully fight your speeding ticket.
10. They can make you better drivers.
If you are serious about analyzing your driving habits then you can use your GPS tracking system for cars to improve your driving habits. Do you take the best route to get to your destination? How is your speed up and slow down times? Do you make good use of coasting to conserve fuel? These are all questions that a GPS car tracking device can help you answer.
How about you, what are some reasons that you can think of to give GPS car tracking a chance?
Creating your very own GPS system for cars is really a lot easier than you think. In days long past you would to have had a hell of a lot of technical experience, a great understanding of how to create software, and a lot of money to get something like real-time GPS tracking to work for yourself. You would have had to buy a ton of equipment that you would never normally use and spend countless hours coding software and making firmaware so that your devices could interact with your software. This process would be both time and money intensive and very few of us would be able to get through it.
Today, it is a totally different story. All you need to create an awesome, real-time GPS tracking system for your car is a navigational GPS that has bluetooth capabilities and a cell phone that can run a free GPS tracking application called 3dtracking. It will also help to have a good cell phone plan with your provider that has plenty of data sending capabilities. That is it.
The Equipment Needed
The very first thing that you are going to need is going to be a GPS navigation unit. This is because the 3dtracking software must have access to coordinates generated by a GPS device in order to provide real-time GPS tracking information. Without some form of GPS information to feed your cell phone that is loaded up with this free GPS tracking software you are not going to be able to get yoru desired results.
While I don’t personally have a navigational GPS, I have heard some good things about the following devices that have Bluetooth capabilities:
If these prices are still to high for you personally then you might want to consider trying to find a refurbished GPS. A refurbished device can sometimes come at a very steep discount (from 20%-50% in some cases) and it should work just as well as a ‘new’ device.
In some cases you won’t even need to own a stand alone car navigation GPS for this system to work. If you own a phone with GPS tracking capabilities already installed into the phone then you don’t need to connect to an external GPS device via Bluetooth. Everything that you are going to need is going to be inside the case of that cell phone.
The Cell Phone
3dtracking published a list of compatible cell phones for their system. If you do not own one of these phones then you will not be able to use this system as I am describing it. Here is a list of the cell phones that is currently compatible with this software:
Some of these phones are rather inexpensive (some can be found for under $20) while others will cost over $200. Which phone you choose will depend largely on your needs for the cell phone and whether or not you want to use it for more than just GPS tracking.
Once you have one of these phones you are going to want to make sure that you have a good data plan for your phone. This way you can send data to the 3dtracking servers without incurring exorbitant fees. Right now, AT&T wireless is offering a unlimited data plan for its phones for $35 a month. This would put your access to real-time GPS tracking information for your car at roughly $1.17 per day.
In order to download the free 3dtracking software simply go here. There are onpage instructions for what to do depending on whether or not you have a Windows-based PDA or a smart phone. Once you have downloaded the application and installed it on your phone or PDA you will do a brief 3 step application process and will be ready to begin tracking with your cell phone right away.
Total Cost to You
The startup cost of this GPS tracking system for cars can be pretty steep, coming in at over $400 if you buy some of the higher end equipment. With a $35 unlimited data plan that would bring the first year total out of pocket expense to somewhere between $800 and $900. The second year of operation would be $420. While this certainly isn’t cheap, if you already have the GPS navigation unit and the compatible cell phone you won’t need to spend any money out of pocket so your expense will probably be $0 unless you have to upgrade the data plan on your phone to handle the load. Free GPS tracking is certainly better than not free GPS tracking.
What Will You Track?
From where I sit there are two main applications for this type of GPS tracking system for cars. They are tracking a teen driver and snooping on a spouse suspected of cheating. For the former you should be completely up front and honest with your teen about what you are doing to their phone and why you are doing it. They should know that you are concerned about their safety and that you want to make their driving experience as safe as possible. Then you should work on some sensible rewards and punishments for your teen drivers. Making sure they they buy into your GPS tracking system is key if it is going to be useful to them and to you.
IF you are tracking a spouse that you suspect of cheating you should not let them know that you are tracking them. To do this, you might have to buy a special phone that you put in their car for them so that they don’t realize what is going on. You will have to leave the phone on and recharge the battery often, but the ability to know if they are cheating or not can certainly be worth the price.
But this set-up, especially one where your phone has GPS capabilities built in, can be used in many more applicaitons. A few of them are to:
There are practically as many things that you can do with this technology as you can dream up, so sit down, grab a beer, and dream. This GPS tracking system for cars is definitely going to blow your mind if you let it.
Before we jump into the ins and outs, ups and downs of GPS tracking for cars let’s take a second to put this type of GPS application into perspective. Let’s look at a real life example of how this technology is actually being used with great effectiveness today. This will help us better understand how we can use GPS tracking to better monitor the activity of our teen driver, our cheating spouse, a company vehicle, an employee, or even our own activity. This technology is here and is only going to become more pervasive as it continues to tumble in price and more and more companies get in on the car tracking action. The following is a brief excerpt from a news article that ran in the Washington Post:
Someone was attacking women in Fairfax County and Alexandria, grabbing them from behind and sometimes punching and molesting them before running away. After logging 11 cases in six months, police finally identified a suspect.
David Lee Foltz Jr., who had served 17 years in prison for rape, lived near the crime scenes. To figure out if Foltz was the assailant, police pulled out their secret weapon: They put a Global Positioning System device on Foltz’s van, which allowed them to track his movements.
Police said they soon caught Foltz dragging a woman into a wooded area in Falls Church. After his arrest on Feb. 6, the string of assaults suddenly stopped. The break in the case relied largely on a crime-fighting tool they would rather not discuss.
If GPS tracking can help the police get a felon off the streets, making them safer, what do you think it can do for you?
Teens are notoriously bad drivers. They speed; the perform jack rabbit starts and sudden stops; they take turns too quickly; they change lanes without signaling; they text while driving – this is all dangerous activity that could end up getting them and their fellow drivers killed.
The strange part about all this is that this is generally not how they drive when you are with them. When you are sitting in the car right next to them the last thing on their mind is answering a friends text message. Instead, they drive with both hands on the steering wheel, eyes are fixed on the road, and they are well within the speed limit. Teens drive recklessly and dangerously when parents are not around.
So how can parents concerned about their teen’s driving habits be with a teen, watching their driving habits, even when they are not in the vehicle with them – through GPS tracking for cars.
I am a firm proponent of telling your teen that you are tracking there car if you do decide to do so. My reasons for feeling this way are three fold: 1) the device will not act as a deterrent of bad driving practices if they don’t know it is there, 2) it is much easier and most effective to discipline your child when they are fully aware of the consequences of their actions, and 3) you won’t be violating the trust of your teen by doing something “sneaky” to them.
Tracking As Deterrent
Your teen won’t act like you are in the car with them if they think that you don’t know how they are driving. The whole point of the tracking device is to prevent your teen from getting into a car wreck because they were doing something stupid behind the wheel. The reasoning behind this will go something like this:
Premise 1: Your teen drives safely when you are in the car with them.
Premise 2: Your teen, at times, drives unsafely when you are not in the car with them.
Premise 3: Having GPS tracking for cars in your teen’s vehicle is like having you in the car.
Conclusion: Your teen will drive like you are in the car with them if they know that the GPS tracking device for cars in the vehicle.
This is a rather simple logic expression where the premises seem to be mostly true. The only one that will have any difficulty being true is Premise 3. Just because the teen knows that you are tracking their every move in the car does not mean that they are always going to act like you are tracking them in the car. They will forget about it, or get caught up in a moment, or take a risk that you won’t check the logs for that specific moment. It is in these instances where we as concerned parents must use discipline in conjunction with the car tracking device.
Tracking and Discipline
One hallmark of good parenting is laying an effective foundation for discipline by making sensible, enforceable, and fair rules. This one of the most important components of using GPS tracking to effectively monitor your teen’s driving behaviors.
Here’s why: you have installed your GPS tracking device in the car, set up good rules that are sensible and fair – the punishment is commensurate with the specific bad driving behavior, but your teen still ends up going 85 mph in a 65 mph zone. You see, they simply forgot that you know what they do when they drive. The music they were listening too or the conversation they were having on the phone overwhelmed their developing brain and they were unable to remember to keep the speed in check.
Luckily, nothing terrible happened to them or to another driver – but how can a teen realize that they are being tracked? One way to do so is to punish bad behavior. Because they broke the speed limit rules that your family put in place they are required to pay the penalty for doing so. Get creative in the rules that you have for certain offenses and only use the suspension of driving privileges for especially grievous offenses.
I think we all pretty much understand how to punish poor driving, but have you considered the other side of the coin? How are you rewarding your teen for safe driving? Rewards are often much better at motivating a teen toward right action than punishment, since punishment is primarily backward looking while reward is forward thinking.
In almost all cases, a mixture of reward and punishment is most effective at training a person to behave a certain way while driving. You can get creative with what you pick and be sure to spend time thinking about what is going to work best for you, your teen, and the safety of other drivers on the road.
Tracking and Trust
Here is a quick video about how the use of secret GPS tracking on your teens car can lead to bad reactions from teens (it is one of our the featured GPS tracking videos):
In my opinion, these parents were well within their responsibilities to attach a secret GPS tracking to their teen’s truck – it is their property (the truck, not the teen) and they do have a responsibility to raise their teen in a safe way – but I just don’t think it is a very effective way to be a responsible parent.
The reactions of this teenage boy are classic. He denies wrong doing, shows signs of anger, and generally feels that his parents violated his rights. They didn’t violate them, but he sure feels like they did. It is my opinion that he is really just upset that his parents tracked him without his knowledge. He was surprised when he found out that they knew his secret (driving over 95 mph!) when he didn’t know they had a way of knowing that. His expectations were wrong and he responded with anger.
Now imagine this situation if the parents had told their teenage son that they were going to track his car to ensure his safety, recover their vehicle if it was stolen, and help them enforce some of the family’s expected driving habits. Sure, he might have put up a fuss at having that conversation and expressed his desire not to have the device installed, but once it was installed he would have know that any unsafe driving practices would be recorded.
He probably would not have driven 95 mph in the first place, and if he did he would have know that his parents were going to find out and punish him according to the rules of the family. This might have been unpleasant, but at least he would have know it was coming!
Devices to Track A Teens Car
One device that will could be considered top of the line for this type of tracking is the LiveWire Unlimited™ Fleet/Car GPS Tracker. It is a permanent solution that is installed inside your car and can be customized to fit you needs.
Another avenue that you could try is tracking your teen’s cell phone. Since most teens carry their cell phone with them everywhere this can be a cheap and cost effective way to get a grasp on your teen’s driving habits.
Both of these option can be very effective at monitor your teens driving habits.
It is never okay to cheat on a significant other, never. So when you suspect your lover of cheating I am of the opinion that the one who is being cheated on has a lot of leverage when it comes to being able to verify if their suspicions are true or not. They can monitor all electronic communications (including cell phone call logs, text messages, emails, and instant messages), track their car with GPS, talk with their friends, make unannounced visits, inspect their clothes, and even install cameras around the house or in a vehicle to help monitor their activity.
Knowing where there car is is particularly important in catching a cheating spouse, but only if the cheating goes on at locations where the individual does not normally attend. If, for example, they are cheating at work while they should be at work then a spouse who is GPS tracking their car will have no way of using this information to catch them cheating.
But if they are going to a hotel, or their lover’s apartment, or they say that they are going one place to hang out with their buddies and then they go somewhere else and you have a GPS device installed in their car then you are going to know about their indiscretion and be able to catch them in their lying, cheating ways. And, since GPS technology is becoming even more reliable than it already was, you will have a very solid case when you go to confront them with the issue, divorce them or go to the location of their trysts.
With GPS tracking for cars you get back into the driver seat of your relationship and take back the power and the trust that your partner tried to steal from you by cheating on you.
A good way to improve the performance of a fleet of vehicles is to install some GPS tracking devices in them. This will have a positive impact on several of your fleet’s performance metrics over the course of 2 years, according to an Aberdeen group study on the impact of GPS fleet tracking on small businesses. Among the most impressive metrics to increase over the two year test period was the number of service calls logged by company employees and a marked increase in a drivers ability to make on time service calls and deliveries.
According to the study, small business (defined as vehicle fleets that consisted of 1 to 10 cars, trucks, or vans) increased the number of work orders that they were able to complete by an astonishing 25%. How would you like to make a $500 initial investment with some reoccurring fees to get 25% more out your work force? I think most employers would love this arrangement.
But how does GPS tracking for cars improve this critical fleet performance metric so drastically? I think the main two reasons that it works so well is that it keeps workers honest and it helps streamline transit times.
It should be obvious to everyone that workers do not really work for 8 full hours even when they punch that in on their time card. Sometimes they take breaks when they aren’t supposed to, push lunch 15 minutes longer than they should, or end work early because they “won’t” be able to finish a job before their shift is over. When all is said and done, most workers (according to a 2007 survey at Salary.com) waste around 20% of their day doing no work related activities while they are on the clock. That is a staggering statistic and seems to explain a lot of the increased productivity that GPS tracking devices engender in small fleets. Workers simply stop wasting time when they know that the boss is watching.
The additional 5% increase in worker productivity is probably related to the fact that workers are able to find the most efficient, time-effective route when traveling to work locations or delivery destinations.
Another use of GPS tracking for cars is for personal efficiency. This is probably not the most cost-effective thing for an individual to do, but if you want real-time GPS tracking of your own movement there are probably devices that will work out great for you.
One subset of people that might find this interesting are off-roaders and street racers – people whose activities take them off beaten paths or who want to be able to relive past experiences that they have had out on the road or off in the middle of nowhere. Real-time tracking is also useful for these individuals if something where to happen to them on a ride and they needed immediate medical attention – all it would take is a quick look at the GPS information provided by the tracking device and help would be on the way.
Again, this isn’t going to be a cost effective way of getting this information – but for some it might be appealing.
Update May 2009: It appears that the T Trac XS GPS Car Tracking System is not longer available from Brickhouse Security.
This GPS tracking system is very popular – with over 200,000 devices in use in 18 countries being serviced by Brickhouse security. The reason for this is because it is the #1 GPS tracking system utilized by the police and private investigators all over the country. Some of the reasons for its popularity with these individuals is the device has a 3 months battery life when you have 4 AA batteries installed. Another key feature is its small size – 5.78″ x 2.99″ x 1.44″ – and light weight – 7 ounces with 4 AA Alkaline Batteries – making it highly concealable on the outside or inside of a car. This device is excellent for covert GPS tracking, keeping tabs on a spouse suspected of cheating, or secretly monitoring an employees activity.
The service provided by Brickhouse Security is top notch and the device comes with a 1 year warranty. You can find out more about this device or make a purchase here: T-Trac XS Internet GPS Car Tracking System
LiveWire Unlimited™ Fleet/Car GPS Tracker
Unlike the T-Trac, the LiveWire tracker hooks directly into the vehicle. This means that as long as the car has power – so does your GPS tracking unit. You will never need to change the devices batteries, which is a great plus for long-term tracking applications like teen driver monitoring and company car tracking.
One particularly useful feature of the LiveWire is that it comes with Skype integration. This means that on the tracking interface on your web browser that lets you see vehicle activity all you need to do to call the driver of the vehicle through your Skype account is click on their vehicle – you will automatically be patched in to the driver’s cell phone. This is a very powerful for those who would use this device for business purposes.
To learn more about the LiveWire tracker or to make an inquiry about a purchase of the device, you should contact the manufacturer of the LiveWire Unlimited™ Fleet/Car GPS Tracker.
In May of 2009, two very important cases came before appellate courts in Wisconsin and New York that had a direct effect on the use of this type of GPS tracking by law enforcement officials. The first ruling to be issued came from Wisconsin where judges ruled unanimously that police could use GPS tracking on cars without a warrant.
The difference in the rulings by the two courts points to the fact that this new technology is making waves in the legal world and the courts and legislatures must create new guidelines to help protect the right of citizens while allowing police to make use of technology in a way that saves money and helps them put more criminals behind bars.
The use of GPS tracking for cars has a lot of potential both infringe on perceived rights and improve law enforcement – but making sure that later is accomplished while the former is avoided is a pretty tough task.
“Blue Dodger, this is Home Base. Do you read me!? Over.” The radio gives a slight crackle as the voice of Home Base abruptly ends with a click. You slowly touch the radio button on your vest and respond to Home Base, “Home Base, this is Blue Dodger. I copy. Over.” You feel a slight tickle of excitement course through your veins as you await the message. You know that Home Base is going to be giving you something good. You have installed a covert GPS tracking device on a target vehicle and Home Base is going to be giving you the coordinates for you to track it down and discover what they are up to.
“Blue Dodger, we have the vehicle parked outside 13141 West Palm Avenue. Head on over and report back your findings.” This is your very first covert op and you feel a surge of adrenaline wash over you like a shore breaking wave, smoothly rattling the content of your chest. The drive to the location isn’t long and you soon find yourself on a normally quiet residential street with cars lined up bumper to bumper on both sides of the street. You find the 1995 Teal Corolla that you attached your covert GPS tracking device to parked exactly where Home Base said it was, but the car is empty.
“Home Base, this is Blue Dodger. I’ve found the vehicle, but its clean. I’ll park and see if I can get a visual. Over.”
“That’s a Roger, Blue Dodger. Report in when you have a visual.”
You get out of the car and park. Your palms begin to sweet as you slowly walk through the lamp lit street, keeping a low profile while trying to observe as much as you can. As you make your way back to the Corolla you notice the sound of loud, thumping music coming from the other end of the street. Without any sign of activity at 13141 West Palm Avenue you make your way toward the music.
As you draw closer you begin to hear the din of voices, laughing and the steady thumping of base. It looks like the driver of the Corolla may be at this party. Unfortunately, you don’t have your party threads on and the age of the crowd is significantly below your own – but you press on anyway knowing that you need to find the driver of the Corolla before it is too late. You radio back to Home Base, “This is Blue Dodger, I’m going in.”
The music inside the house is deafening and it is all you can do to hug a wall and work your way around the interior of the house. There is no communication with Home Base now. You scan the crowd looking for the driver you were tracking but they are nowhere to be found. Then, all of a sudden, you see in the other room a the long blond hair of the driver you have been trying to covertly track. She is standing talking to a man several years her elder, his face stubbled with a healthy five o’clock shadow.
You make your move on the target.
But before you do, you need to create a diversion to get her away from Mr. Five O’Clock. You pull out your trusty cell phone that has been relaying your position to Home Base via GPS. You send a simple text message, using your full qwerty keyboard because that is how you roll, with the message,
create diversion. call target. test time
In just a moment you see Long Blond Hair reach into her bag and pull out a glowing, vibrating cell phone. She looks up at Mr. Five O’Clock shadow and seems to say something. He smiles and waves as she leaves the room. She walks past you in a hurry, but you are still holding the wall tight and she doesn’t notice. You had anticipated that since the room is dark except for the constant flashing of mutli-colored lights.
Long Blond Hair leaves the house at a run and is soon 50 feet away from the house when she puts the still glowing and vibrating cell phone to her ear. “Hello,” her voice sounds strong and confident. She pauses for just a second, then with an oune of frustration in her voice she says, “What do you want? I’m watching a movie at Katie’s house.” You walk up behind her and tap her on the shoulder.
She turns around with a sudden look of horror on her face. “Dad,” she says with a little fear in her voice, “What are you doing here?”
“I think the question is, honey, what are you doing here?”
If you want to go with traditionally covert GPS devices then you are going to need to fork out some significant cash. Round the clock monitoring and real-time tracking capabilities do not come cheap – so expect to shell out $100s just for the device itself. Then you are also going to need to pay up for a service fee as well so you can get access to your tracking information. You might be able to build your own system out of one of the open source GPS tracking devices that have skematics on the Internet, but then you need some high quality GPS tracking software as well to make sure that your data is getting stored and displayed properly. There is open source software for this too, but you will have to trade some of your precious time to learn how to use it.
In the end analysis, almost anyone with enough money is going to have access to tracking with GPS – and you don’t even need that much money anymore to get some really cool, cover GPS tracking devices.
If you were one of the people scared out of your mind that some states like Wisconsin allow warrantless GPS tracking of cars then you can breath a sigh of relief in knowing that not all the courts in our nation agree. New York, in a recent court decision, ruled that police in the state must have a warrant when placing a GPS tracking device on a suspects car – joining Washington and Oregon who already have rulings in places ensuring this.
The New York court differed from the Wisconsin one in one major way – the New York court seemed to think that GPS tracking was in fact different from physical surveillance or other technological forms of tracking (like a radio frequency emitter). The court wrote:
Here, we are not presented with the use of a mere beeper to facilitate visual surveillance during a single trip. GPS is a vastly different and exponentially more sophisticated and powerful technology that is easily and cheaply deployed and has virtually unlimited and remarkably precise tracking capability. […] Constant, relentless tracking of anything is now not merely possible but entirely practicable …. GPS is not a mere enhancement of human sensory capacity, it facilitates a new technological perception of the world in which the situation of any object may be followed and exhaustively recorded over … a practically unlimited period. The potential for a similar capture of information or “seeing” by law enforcement would require, at a minimum, millions of additional police officers and cameras on every street lamp.
The majority opinion of the court is trying to make a distinction between the information gathered from physical surveillance of technologically assisted surveillance (the beeper from the 1983 Wisconsin case used as precedent in both this case the more recent Wisconsin case) and that made possible by a GPS tracking device. The main thrust seems to be that in order to gather similar information on an individual you would need “millions of additional police.”
The court then goes on to discuss the privacy issues involved in GPS tracking cases:
One need only consider what the police may learn, practically effortlessly, from planting a single device. The whole of a person’s progress through the world, into both public and private spatial spheres, can be charted and recorded over lengthy periods …. Disclosed in the data retrieved from the transmitting unit, nearly instantaneously with the press of a button on the highly portable receiving unit, will be trips the indisputably private nature of which takes little imagination to conjure: trips to the psychiatrist, the plastic surgeon, the abortion clinic, the AIDS treatment center, the strip club, the criminal defense attorney, the by-the-hour motel, the union meeting, the mosque, synagogue or church, the gay bar and on and on. What the technology yields and records … is a highly detailed profile … of where we go, … of our associations — political, religious, amicable and amorous, to name only a few — and of the pattern of our professional and avocational pursuits. When multiple GPS devices are utilized, even more precisely resolved inferences about our activities are possible. And … it will be possible to tell from … who we are and are not with, when we are and are not with them, and what we do and do not carry on our persons — to mention just a few of the highly feasible empirical configurations.
This judgment reads to me that the court made its decision to deny warrantless GPS tracking because it would give the police a lot of information about a suspects activities and would be much, much cheaper than putting a “tail” on the suspect.
Personally, I can’t seem to make myself agree with the courts rulings. I am not a lawyer nor am I trained in the law, but it seems to me like the information gather by a GPS tracking device attached to a car could be gather by a physical tail on a suspect – but just at a much greater cost.
A police officer could tell if a person drove their car to a mosque, or a church, or a bar, or a friends house, or to work, or to a soccer game, or to their child’s recital. All this information would be easily accessible to any person capable of seeing and all of it would be occurring in public space – where people have no fundamental right to privacy.
Granted, GPS tracking a cell phone could provide police with a much larger amount of information that would track a person’s movement’s within completely private places – such as a doctors office, or a church building, or a private club – so perhaps the court’s decision is taking these into consideration as well.
However, I am concerned with the way their ruling could affect the police’s ability to easily and precisely put a tail on a suspects vehicle. GPS tracking for cars will only really track the movements of an individual’s car in public places – something that seems very reasonable for the police to be able to track with GPS. It is much more cost effective and gives them an opportunity to utilize their skilled officers in other tasks.
In the end, whether or not GPS tracking for cars will require a warrant or not is going to be decided in cases like this all over the country by Appellate courts who are going to differ on what the nature of GPS tracking is and what that means for a person’s 4th Amendment rights.
In a decision filed on Mar 7, 2009, the Wisconsin VI District Court of Appeals made a ruling that has interesting implications for GPS tracking’s place in society and law enforcement. In the case in question, State of Wisconsin v. Michael A. Sveum, the defendant (Michael Sveum) was arguing that the GPS tracking device installed on his car by the police was in violation of his 4th Amendment right of protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. The police claim that they did not violate Sveum’s 4th Amendment rights.
The crux of the issue here is summarized nicely by the court in their written decision, authored by Judge Paul Lundsten:
Michael Sveum challenges his aggravated stalking conviction. At Sveum’s jury trial, the prosecution presented detailed tracking information about the movements of Sveum’s car obtained from a Global Positioning System tracking device (GPS device) that police secretly attached to his car. Sveum argues that the police obtained this tracking information in violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The State responds that no Fourth Amendment search or seizure occurs when police attach a GPS device to the outside of a vehicle while it is in a place accessible to the public and then use that device to track the vehicle while it is in public view. We agree with the State.
The court’s decision has some interesting implications. What the court essentially did in ruling in favor of the state in this appeal is open up the public to warrantless GPS tracking of a suspects car, truck, or van.
This has caused a lot of buzz, with fear mongers taking up the call of state oppression and fears that their rights of privacy are being violated unduly. I think a lot of this talk is not constructive and does little to actaully help protect citizen’s privacy from unreasonable searches and seizures.
When you sit down and think about it logically, the court’s decision makes a lot of sense. GPS tracking is a lot like physical surveillance, except that you don’t have to spend tax payer’s money on sitting a person outside a suspects home for hours on end. According to one news report, the GPS tracking for cars was used for 5 weeks to monitor Sveum’s activity. How much would it have cost to put a tail on a suspect day and night, 7 days a week, for five weeks? A lot of money.
After the 5 weeks of tracking was up, the device was retrieved from the car and then processed by police. The location information that they uncovered helped them get a warrant to search Sveum’s car and home, the resulting evidence discovered was enough for a jury to convict the defendant of aggravated stalking.
If you think about it, the information gathered from the GPS tracking device installed on the car was exactly the same as that that could be gathered from physical observation. Cars travel in public places and can be easily view by authorities with a desire to do so. Such tailing is not a violation of a person’s 4th Amendment right and so the court reasoned that the GPS tracking was permissible.
It also reasoned that since tailing a suspect can be done without a warrant (since their activity is within the public sphere) then the GPS tracking of a car can also be done without a warrant.
Now in the Sveum case there was a warrant that let the police use the GPS tracking device, but the language of the court’s ruling indicated that this warrant was unnecessary. Again, the language of the court:
Sveum challenges the admission of GPS tracking information showing the movements of his car. He argues that the warrant authorizing police to place the GPS device on his car was overly broad. The State responds that the warrant was unnecessary because no Fourth Amendment search or seizure occurred. In reply, Sveum implicitly concedes that placing the GPS device on his car and using it to monitor public travel does not implicate the Fourth Amendment. He contends, however, that because the GPS device permitted the police to monitor the location of his car while it was in his garage and in his employer’s garage, places out of public view, all of the information obtained from the GPS device should have been suppressed. Because we agree with the State that no Fourth Amendment search or seizure occurred, we do not address Sveum’s warrant argument.
Clear as crystal – the police, at least in Wisconsin, do not need to have a search warrant to place a GPS tracking device on your car. They can do it for any reason and for presumably any purpose – as long as their resources allow it.
According to the New York Court of Appeals, police inside New York must have a warrant when when using GPS tracking on a suspects car. This is directly opposite of what the Wisconsin court ruled just a few weeks ago. This difference in ruling highlights some of the current issues with the use of new technology in ever expanding areas of life. Readers old enough to remember the stir that wire tapping raised when it was first introduced will see some similarities between that and GPS tracking. If you want to learn more about this case and their ruling,check out our post New York Requires Warrant To GPS Track Suspects
Do you think that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Wisconsin’s ability to freely use GPS tracking on individuals? Why or why not?
For some reason, once our children hit their teenage years they can become rebellious and obstinate, rejecting the care and oversight of their parents. Not all teens fall into this trap of our culture, but even the most well behaved teen is going to get into some trouble now and then as they experiment with their new found freedom and grow into mature adults. We all make mistakes on our road to maturity.
GPS tracking can be a useful tool in the hands of a concerned or watchful parent – and it doesn’t have to be used only to monitor the behavioral issues a teenager may be expressing. These devices can help empower parents to give their teens even more freedom once they become aware of how careful, law abiding, and respectful their teenagers are. The information gathered by a device could also aid a parent in making an informed decision about about dangers presented by poor driving habits, skipping school, or the neighborhoods that life can take their kids into. Despite their larger size, high mental capabilities, and maturing bodies, teenagers are still children in many respects and parents still feel a degree of responsibility to keep their child safe.
If you have a teen with behavioral problems or you just like to know where your child is for safety’s sake then there are some real solutions for you and your family that can included GPS tracking. A solution’s success for your situation will undoubtedly depend on your own specific needs and desires, so be sure that you think about your solution carefully before purchasing a device. These things can be expensive and you don’t want to waste money on something when other relational steps could be taken to solve the problem.
Learning to drive has long been a “coming of age” event for teens and driving represents a significant portion of their travel time. If your teen is anything like the one’s I’ve met then as soon as they are able they are hounding their parents for the keys at every opportunity. They want to drive to and from school; to drive to their friends house; to go out to the movies. They want to go out on dates. They even want you to pay for gas!
What they are essentially after is the freedom to do what they want when they want to. This is a pretty normal thing for teenagers to experience since they are just at the beginning stages of becoming an adult and will try to emulate many of the things adults can do with their freedoms.
Many teens even have their own car these days; given to them by parents who enjoy the freedom that having a driving, mobile teen provides. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it can create some challenges in keeping tabs on your kid if they are (secretly) rebellious. In some ways, when a teen has a car it becomes much harder to know where they are, even if they are obedient and well behaved, and can create a safety nightmare for parents prone to worry.
How Does GPS Tracking A Car Work?
Tracking a car is fundamentally no different from tracking anything else with GPS, except that there are devices that have been manufactured and marketed specifically for this purpose. These devices are sometimes referred to as data pushers or real-time tracking devices. They work by gathering and calculating location data from the Global Positioning Satellites orbiting the earth and transmitting that data via radio or cellular frequencies. Your tracking provider takes this data, makes it look pretty, and makes it available to you from a (generally) web-based interface.
Your GPS device will be able to report the vector of the vehicle (both speed and direction). Many companies will also keep the data sent to it by the tracker and organize it into a useful “history” report. A driving “history” can be very helpful to a parent trying to verify a teen’s story about their whereabouts or driving practices. They won’t be able to so much as speed without you knowing it! And that is a big deal when it comes to keeping them safe.
What Are The Limitations On Tracking A Teen By Car?
There are some limitations to this method of tracking. The first is that it only works on teenagers who are legally eligible to drive. In most states this is at the age of 16 1/2 while in others it can be as old as 18. By the time they are 18 most teens should be sufficiently mature to make good decisions about how fast they drive, who they hang out with, and what activities they participate in without their parent’s watchful eye hanging over them.
However, that does not mean that a GPS tracking device installed in the car is not going to be useful – it just might be less of a parenting tool and more and an emergency tool. It can still help you locate a stolen car. It can still help you find the location of the car in case of a medical emergency. It will still help you find the scene of a crash or a lost vehicle. It just might not be used to make sure your teen isn’t speeding.
The second limitation is that it only works when your teen is using the car. This is probably a much bigger limitation than most people realize. Cars can easily be ditched by savvy teens or sinister assailants, negating the effectiveness of the tracker for the purpose that you intended.
Imagine for a second that the teen you want to track is aware that their car has a GPS unit installed in it. They tell you that they are going over to a friend’s to hang out and watch some teen flick like Epic Movie. However, what they tell you is not really what they are going to do. They have really planned on going to a drinking party with this friend in the friend’s automobile, leaving the car with the GPS tracking unit safely at the friend’s house.
When you check up on your teen in your web-based account that provides real-time data on their whereabouts you find that the car is at the friend’s house. You breathe a sigh of relief, but your teen is out making some bad peer-to-teen choice behaviors at the drinking party and you will be none the wiser. That is where the next teen tracking device comes into play – the cell phone.
Tracking Your Teen’s Cell Phone
This is probably going to be the most useful and the most widely used method of using tracking a position of a teenager with GPS. Unlike cars, cell phones appear to be in the hands of 99% of teenagers. This is an unprecedented proliferation, but is not surprising given how useful they are for communicating between family members and for entertaining their users.
Most teens will use their phones to text friends, others will use it to take pictures, others to chat, and still others to browse the internet or update their Facebook page. But now parents can use the same cell phones that are already in their teen’s hands to track their whereabouts and keep them safe.
Tapping Into To The Power of Cell Phones To Track Your Teen
Because cellar phones are everywhere, big wigs in the telecommunications industry decided that they wanted to compete with GPS companies like Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan in the navigation market with their cell phones. They have since made some pretty significant inroads here because GPS technology and the radio positioning technology that cell phones use works off the same basic mathematical principle – trilateration.
Once that market was penetrated, cell phone providers realized that they could leverage the technology that they produced for GPS navigation for GPS tracking. This birthed specialized phones designed specifically for kids that would enable parents and law enforcement to recover missing children by tracking their cell phone.
Many cell phone providers now offer plans that let you begin to track your child’s position information. These planes also record vector information (speed and location), fulfilling one of the most important features of a car tracking device discussed above. Cell phones are generally going to be with your child at all times, thus avoiding some of the limitations of car based tracking. Cell phones have the added feature of allowing parents to verify that your child is with their phone simply by calling them up – their voice on the other end of the line is the proof.
Another great benefit is that your teen has every incentive to keep their cell phone charged and ready for use – they want to use it to talk to their friends! This means you won’t have to change the tracking device’s battery because your teenager has a very large incentive to do it for you. Its a win-win for both of you.
Cell Phone Tracking Limitations
Despite cell phone tracking’s relative superiority over car based tracking there are still some serious limitations to tracking your child in this fashion. The first is that in some circumstances – like abduction – your child is probably going to get their cell phone taken away by their abductor. This is probably the most dire of situations where you would want the tracking device to work perfectly, but because of the knowledge that cell phones can be used by the authorities to locate individuals it is probably going to be the first thing searched for and gotten ride of by an assailant.
The other limitation is that cell phones do not always receive signals from cell towers. This is particularly problematic in remote areas where cell phone penetration is less established. If a phone is unable to make a connection to its network then any location data gathered by the phone cannot be communicated to you, the parent. The data may be still be stored on the phone, but it does not do you any good until you can get your hands on it.
In the end though, the cell phone is probably the cheapest, easiest, and most reliable of all the tracking options available to parents on the market today. It should definitely be a strong contender in your quest to use GPS tracking for your teen.
Tracking Your Teen With Covert GPS
The last method I am aware of is using more covert methods of tracking your teen. This is different than tracking the car they use or utilizing their cell phone to keep tabs on them. While you may track them in these ways without them knowing (i.e. in a covert way) I like to think of covert tracking as something rather different.
It is more spy-like in my mind and has more to do with sticking a GPS tracker in a shoe, or a bag, or an iPod. These types of trackers are designed specifically to avoid detection – by the person who the device is tracking or by someone who would steal the asset or abduct the assets bearer.
Covert GPS devices are small, compact, battery operated, and extremely powerful.
What Types of Covert GPS Are Available?
You’d be surprised at the large number of GPS tracking devices that fall into this category. They can range from stuffed animals to watches to shoes to jackets. Almost anything a teenager carries can be turned into a set of watchful eyes.
When thinking about where you want to install a covert device it is important that you pick items that your teen uses every day, like shoes or a winter jacket, since these devices will have the highest probability of staying on your child no matter what happens to them.
Why Choose Covert GPS Tracking For Teens?
The only reason to go with covert devices is if your teenager they are at high risk for abduction and you want to be able to locate them quickly and efficiently. This is the situation when cell phones simply won’t do since they will be quickly destroyed by attackers.
Another good reason to use covert devices is that they can go without detection for longer periods of time – but they do suffer from battery life limitations so be careful how you use them. The last thing you want to do it so get caught while you change the tracker’s battery!
Should I Be Secret Or Open About Tracking My Teen?
Now that we have discussed some of the options that can help you keep track of your teen it is really important that we evaluate any moral problems with using GPS tracking on a teenager. Is it wrong to track them at all? If I think it is right, do I need to tell them that I am doing it or can I ‘keep it secret?’
I think that each person is going to end up answering this question differently, but my take on it is this – it is okay to track a teen without their knowledge. This is also my answer when thinking about tracking a child. It is an okay and acceptable practice given certain circumstances.
My reasons for this is threefold:
Parents have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their child. It is even my opinion that parents are supposed to protect their children even if the child expresses a desire not to be protected. If a teen is going to engage in activity that directly affects their safety – such as speeding, drinking, doing drugs, having sex before marriage – then it is a parents obligation to take measures that help them ensure their teenager’s safety.
Teens are still under the care of their parents. The main source of the parents obligation to their teen is that the teen still lives under the care and provision of the parent. If the teen was self-sufficient I could definitely see an argument for restricting a parents right to know the location of a child at all times. However, this is often not the case for children between the ages of 13 and 18 – and is often not even the case for kids between 18 and 22. They often still rely heavily on their parents for financial and moral support.
Many teens do not own their cell phones and cars. At the very least you have to give parents the right to track their assets, right? The car is the property of the parents so they should know where it is and how it is being driven. The cell phone is paid for and provided by the parents, so they have a stake in where it is and how it is treated. The fact that they are also able to track their teen’s location is merely a consequence of the teen using something that the parent owns. If they want to avoid this type of tracking then they should buy their own phone and car.
With all that said, I don’t think it is always in the parent’s or the teen’s best interest to keep the GPS tracking a secret. In many, many instances it will work out much better for both parties if the device is clearly explained and accounted for. Tracking teen with GPS is just a tool in the hands of parents and teenagers to make life safer for everyone – communication should always be clear and honest where appropriate. Without that, no amount of GPS tracking is going to do teens or parents any good.