There is more news coming out of Wisconsin related to the world of GPS tracking. A La Crosse man was convicted of stalking his estranged wife with a GPS tracking device installed in her car. Apparently, the man was just keeping tabs on her because of some custody issues that they were working out. If a police complaint about the convict is true, he used the GPS device to track his wife as far as Iowa, harassing his her with his presence.
He entered an Alford plea to the charge, which means he thinks he is ‘Not Guilty’ but still thinks a jury will convict him, and will suffer two years of probation and six months of local confinement – meaning that the person who once used GPS tracking to stalk will now have his location tracked with GPS. How ironic.
But this particular case is not of necessarily of interest because of this irony but because of two other things that have happened in the past couple of months. The first is that police in Wisconsin can GPS track cars without warrants according to a Wisconsin VI District Court of Appeals decision issued in March of 2009. This means that police can place a tracking device on any person’s vehicle that they feel like could be a suspect in a case without any warrant. If they thought that you were somehow a part of the mafia they could place one in your vehicle without you knowing and expect you to like it.
What makes this interesting is that apparently this same ability doesn’t transfer over to private citizens, or at least private citizens with restraining orders on them. This is great news for all of us that might fear a neighbour or complete stranger might be stalking us and be well within their rights. Apparently, only the police can stalk people without getting in trouble with the police …
But this leads to a related thing that is kind of interesting about this whole story – that GPS tracking blockers can be pretty useful devices. If you are having someone stalking you with a real-time tracking device installed in your car then there is no better way of getting them off your back than installing one of these devices (Update 4/16/2012:GPS jammers are illegal and should not be used). This isn’t something that most people are going to need and certainly isn’t something I would recommend having just in case – but if you are being harassed or stalked by someone with even the littlest bit of technical knowhow or if they seem to be showing up in places they shouldn’t know about then getting a GPS tracking blocker may be a good, safe thing to do.
The other thing that made this particularly interesting is just how widely available GPS tracking is. Even a stalkers in Wisconsin can get their hands on it. Just a few years ago GPS navigation units were over $500 – well outside the range of most people both then and now. Today, however, you can make your own real-time tracking device for $40 upfront and a $30 monthly fee with a cell phone and some free GPS tracking software. These types of tracking devices are very easy to set up and take very little skill to do.
But even without cheating and using a cell phone, some covert GPS tracking devices are fairly reasonably priced these days. An effective real-time tracking device can be purchased for well under $200, with some GPS loggers coming in at under $100. A GPS logger isn’t going to need a monthly subscription either, making it very easy to purchase and use extensively (but probably not by a stalker – so you are probably going to be good).
GPS is just going to become more prevelant as the years roll on and we are going to have to deal with GPS tracking on a much higher level than ever before. I can forsee in the future a time when letting someone GPS track your location is a sign that you are in a serious relationship with them, much like giving them acess to your email account might be today. Teens will track their boyfriends and girlfriends for the one day that they are a couple, only having to find a way to cleanly break such intimate knowledge. This may seem funny now, but in five years I really think that this is going to be a reality.
It may seem a little scary, but GPS tracking is going to be the norm rather than the exception.
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.
Update 4/16/2012:GPS jammers are illegal and should not be used. After several events in recent years the US government has really began to crack down on GPS jammers since they pose a significant risk to public safety and national infrastructure. Consumers should not buy these devices unless they are approved by the FCC. Any jammer in use should be retired and an alternative method to ensure location privacy should be employed since penalties for jammer use could exceed $100,000 and include jail time.
With all this talk about how the police sometimes can and sometimes cannot use GPS tracking on your car I did a little research to see if there was something that a private citizen could do to prevent such activity from occurring. There is – it is called a GPS tracking blocker. What this device appears to be is a sort of signal scrambler that will confusing the tracking unit, making your vehicle “invisible” to the satellite eyes in the sky.
How Does a GPS Blocker Work?
As stated above, the blocker will work by emitting a signal that interferes with the signals transmitted by the Global Positioning System that orbits the earth overhead. The effectiveness of these blockers is only a few meters, so making sure that you place your device in such a way that it will be able to block a device placed in the front or back of your car is important. If you are driving a large tractor trailer and there are tracking devices installed somewhere in the trailer section then your blocker is probably not going to work. Also, if you have a particularly large SUV or truck be sure that your blocker is going to have a radius that will cover your entire vehicle.
The signal that the GPS tracking blocker emits is 1/1000 of the radiant energy that a cell phone transmits so you can be sure that these devices are much safer to have near you than a cell phone. Speaking of which, it is important to note that these devices will block regular navigation GPS units from working properly but it will not block the signal from a cell phone. What this means is that if you cell phone uses some form of alternative to GPS to get its position information you are going to need to buy a cell phone signal blocker if you don’t want people knowing where you are because of your cell phone.
A Word On Criminals
Now I want to be clear, I don’t want any criminals to be buying cell phone blockers or GPS blockers so that they can go do some sort of illegal activity. That is just wrong and I don’t want that to happen. But I do know that there are going to be some law abiding citizens out there who don’t want the government to be able to tell them what they should and where they should be and who they should be associating with. They want their private life to be their private life and they want to have it without the threat of the government knowing everything about them.
GPS blockers are for this type of person. They obey the law, they just don’t want the law breathing down their necks.
These device are certainly not very cheap and range anywhere from $50-$150. They do seem very sturdy and able to withstand a lot of wear and tear, but anything with an antenna like the ones found on these devices needs the antenna to be in good working condition if it is to block the signals the way that you want it to. I personally have not tested any of these GPS tracking blockers myself, but they do seem like they should work. If you have one or try one out, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
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.