Don’t Worry About GPS Tracking You — Worry About Your Cellphone

Don’t Worry About GPS Tracking You

Ever since the day I first started this site ( back on 2004-03-20 … wow has it been that long?) I have been fielding questions about the legality of GPS tracking.

When I first started the site tis question kind of threw me, becuase it’s no secret that I am an unabashed GPS tracking enthusiast.  Heck I earned my primary living at it for many years.

Doesn’t The Fourth Amendment Protect You?

But it’s also no secret that the Fourth Amendment (Illegal Search and Seizure) and other privacy related laws have merit and certainly legal status.  So I’ve learned a lot over the past 12+ years of writing and I’m certainly still learning.  Remembering that I am a layman, not a lawyer, and that none of what I write can be taken as legal advice.  But you can start learning here if this is all somewhat new to you.

There Are Many More Ways To Track Than GPS — All “Tracking” Is NOT GPS

Police, private investigators or just plain members of the general public who want to know your whereabouts, and where you have been and when you were there, may track you using various forms of GPS tracking.

Do they have to meet certain legal requirements to do this?  Yes, but depending upon the state where you reside and many other legal “niceties”, meeting the standards of legality my be easier than you think.  Regards of the law, there are always people who might decide not to bother with the law and track you anyway.

If someone places a hidden GPS tracking device on your car, you may not know about it.  This is a problem which I can’t offer any 100% solutions to.

But Maybe “The Device” Is Already There

But they may not need to place a device on your car.  A device may already BE There.  Example, GM (and Honda’s) OnStar.  Ford and other manufacturers have similar products.  Did you buy one with your last new car?  It pays to read the fine print.

If you bought a used car, there’s also an excellent chance your car has a dealer-installed tracking system, especially if you bought through a “buy here, pay here” dealer.  Could this be legal?  Maybe yes, maybe no, again. what does your sales and financing contract say?

But Maybe “The Device” Is Already On Your Person

But even more pervasive than any of these common methods is your cell phone.  Most modern cell phones, both IOS (Apple) and Android (most other brands) send out your GPS location to our service provider.  Any law enforcement agency can obtain this data with a simple letter request or at most a subpoena from a court.

In most jurisdictions the standards for a location tracki data request are much less restrictive than say the critera for a voice “phone tap”.

A non-law enforcement agency or a private person “snooper” may be able to gain access to the information by various illegal, but often easily done “hacks”.

What You Can Do Abut GPS Cell Phone Tracking Privacy

  • Well first of all, don’t carry a cell phone.  Later on in this article you’ll see why this is good advice, GPS or no GPS.
  • If you do decide carrying a cell phone is worth the risk, then think about one which does not have built in GPS capability.
  • Or you can often disable or lock out the GPS feature in your existing phone.

But alas for your privacy, nothing except the law will stop cell phone’s most pervasive privacy weakness.

Locking or blocking the GPS features of your phone still leaves you highly vulnerable.

Cell Site Location Information (CLSI)

Your cell phone, even the oldest and most basic non-GPS type phones operate in a very defined manner, anywhere, world-wide.

If the cell phone is powered on, it continually searches, silently and automatically, for a signal from the closest cell phone tower or “cell site”.

When it detects a signal, it transmits, also silently and automatically, it’s built-in, unchangeable “protocol” (which means a set of standard procedures ever cell phone and cell phone carrier adheres to, world-wide).

Among other data, your phone _ALWAYS_ sends its IMSI (the International Mobile Subscriber Identity number that identifies a particular subscriber’s SIM card).

So any time your phone is turned on, a cell phone tower and the cell phone carrier that hosts that tower knows your approximate location.  If you are traveling, the phone will continually update with different towers along the way, and thus anyone with access to the carrier’s records will have a rough map of your travel, in what we call “near real time”.

Absolutely no GPS needed.

But There’s More Than CLSI to Worry About

In order to get emergency responders to the location of an emergency situation called in to 911, the FCC requires ALL US cell phone carriers to

Phase II E911 rules require wireless service providers to provide more precise location information; specifically, the latitude and longitude of the caller. This information must be accurate to within 50 to 300 meters depending upon the type of location technology used. “

This means, again, all phones.  How do the carriers know the latitude and longitude of a cell phone without GPS?  They use a technique call multilateration, often called triangulation.  This technique involves various cell phone towers “pinging” your phone (not detectable by you, the user) and then by simple measurements of signal strength and your direction from multiple towers, simple (for a computer) trigonometry the carrier can determine your location within 50 meters (~165 feet).

What can you do to prevent this happening?  Frankly, not a damn thing if your phone is turned on.

Again, absolutely no GPS s required.

Two Other Important Location Privacy Issues

Have you ever heard of a “Tower Dump“?

Basically this mean police or other agencies with at least putative law enforcement status request a report commonly called a “Tower Dump” from all carriers with cell phone towers in range of a specific area at a specific time … typically an hour or two.

This “Dump” report give the requestor a list of all cell phone in range of a specific tower.  Let’s say you go to a rock concert and a crime occurs.

Presto.  If the police have no other means of finding leads to specific suspects, just by going to the event you just made yourself a potential suspect.  Just sitting at their desktop computers the police now have a list of people to begin further invading the privacy of, with virtually no “probably cause”.  Just by carrying a cell phone you have put yourself at a crime scene.  Scary?

Again, absolutely no GPS tracking involved here.

Last But Not Least (for today, anyway).

Stingray (and now a whole army of similar devices know by different trade names).  These are suitcase-size 9or even smaller) “black boxes”, once super secretly built for the NSA and other “black” government agencies which act as a phony cell tower.

They mimic a real tower, your phone innocently connects and presto, who you call, when you call them, what you say or text is instantly available to the Stingray operator.

Not only are these devices routinely used in surveillance vans, it’s highly likely the NSA, FBI (and perhaps other government agencies) have a small fleet of aircraft readily available for dispatch anywhere to orbit over an area of interest while perhaps hearing everything from everyone.

It’s also quite apparent that these aircraft are airborne and listening for somehting and someone almost every day.  An informative and chilling article (with detailed maps) here: America is being watched from above. Government surveillance planes routinely circle over most major cities — but usually take the weekends off.

Help Is On The Horizon

So after nearly two thousand words of b=doom and gloom, is there any help for the average cell phone usuer who doesn’t like to be tracked at will?

Well yes, at least a move in the right direction for privacy, I hope.

Supreme Court Review Fourth Amendment: Warrantless Cell-site Data Collection Unconstitutional

Monday, October 31, 2016 :: Staff infoZine
Cell phone location data, which can provide an incredibly detailed picture of people’s private lives, implicates our Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches, requiring police to obtain a warrant to gain access, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told the Supreme Court.
Weighing in on separate cases where two courts have applied 1970s-era law to digital communications in the information age, EFF urged the nation’s highest court to step in and establish that Americans have the right to expect location data generated from their cell phones is private and protected by the Constitution against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Cell phones constantly connect to cell towers and antennas—which number in the hundreds of thousands—that handle traffic from an estimated 378 million U.S. cell phone accounts. The data generated about these connections, known as cell-site location information (CSLI), create a highly detailed picture of people’s private lives. We carry our cell phones when we leave our homes each day, when we walk into a therapist or lawyer’s office, visit a gun shop, attend a political meeting or sleep at a friend’s. Location information about these private activities is tracked and stored, for years, by cell service providers.

Don't Worry About GPS Tracking YouDefendants in U.S. v. Carpenter and U.S. v. Graham were convicted after police obtained, without warrants, hundreds of days of location data produced by their phones to connect them to crimes. The defendants maintained that the use of CSLI violated their Fourth Amendment rights. But the appeals courts in both cases followed Smith v. Maryland, a Supreme Court decision from 1979, when many Americans used rotary-dial land-line phones. In Smith, the Court said that people who voluntarily give certain information to third-parties—such as banks or the phone company—have no expectation of privacy in this information, and thus the government does not need a warrant to access it.

“Cell phone users don’t voluntarily provide location data to their providers—it happens automatically without their control and is generated whether or not the phone is being used,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. “Other federal courts and judges in several states have recognized that the so-called ‘third party doctrine’ doesn’t apply to CSLI. It’s time for the Supreme Court to consider whether a decision it made before the existence of commercial cell phones, which are now ubiquitous and reveal our every move, can still be used to override Fourth Amendment protections.”

In 2014, the high court recognized in a unanimous ruling that the astounding amount of sensitive data stored on modern cell phones requires police to obtain a warrant before accessing data on an arrestee’s device. And in a landmark 2012 decision, the court held that GPS tracking is a search under the Fourth Amendment. Yet police are obtaining extensive historic cell-site information without warrants.

“CLSI can give law enforcement far more information about a person’s movement than GPS tracking—cell phones go everywhere their owners go,” said EFF Staff Attorney Andrew Crocker. “If GPS tracking implicates Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights, prolonged cell-site data collection—which provides sensitive details about where we went, who we met with, and what we did—should also be protected against warrantless searches. We’re asking the court to grant review of these important cases and address the Fourth Amendment privacy implications of CSLI.”

EFF filed identical petitions in U.S. v. Carpenter and U.S. v. Graham.

Bottom Line?

If you carry a cell phone, Don’t Worry About GPS Tracking You.

Police Chiefs, Do You Even Care? Your Patrol Officers Are Out Of Control

Patrol Officers Are Out Of Control.

BOSTON —A five-month undercover investigation into the state’s environmental police department exposed officers on the clock, while at home, on the taxpayers’ dime.

Watch the report

On one day, 5 Investigates’ tracked state environmental police Officer Pat Robert as he loaded up a handful of fishing poles and was finally ready to respond for duty after staying at home, on the clock, for the first six hours of his shift.

Video: 5 Investigates GPS devices no longer track environmental police trucks

It’s a troubling pattern we discovered – Massachusetts Environmental Police officers at home during their shifts, their take-home state trucks parked outside.

“It’s a complete waste of taxpayer money,” said a source familiar with how the department works. “Right now it’s a free-for-all. Everybody does whatever they want to do.”

“There’s no accountability. There’s no supervision of any kind whatsoever,” the source added.

Why Are These Officers Even Being Paid?

Patrol Officers Are Out Of Control.The mission of the Massachusetts Environmental Police is to protect the environment and natural resources. They enforce fishing, boating and hunting laws and relocate wayward animals.

But we observed officer Robert at home for hours at a time on multiple days while on duty.

Our cameras also caught him driving well over the speed limit when there was no emergency at all. His destination? Boston Harbor, where he just sat in his truck, then he took a stroll around the North End and eventually landed at headquarters 2 1/2 into his shift.

We also found other officers, including Eamonn Mullaly and Brian St. Pierre, at home on several days during their shifts for an hour or more instead of out on patrol.

“That’s a complete absence of any kind of management oversight,” said Tom Nolan, a criminology professor at Merrimack College and former Boston police lieutenant.

“These are well-compensated people who are in a position of a lot of responsibility and they bear the public trust ultimately,” Nolan said. “And this is violative of the public trust.”

Our investigation also found this perk: Environmental police get paid time and a half by another state agency, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, to work details patrolling state pools and parks. And they are even allowed to split their regular shifts to accommodate the lucrative details in the middle of their work days.

Our cameras captured officer Ian Haskins enjoying an ice cream poolside while working a split-shift, time-and-a-half detail.

Haskins is just one of the many officers taking advantage of that detail perk, some guarding nearly empty pools or just sitting in their trucks outside the pool area.

Legitimate Overtime Is One Thing, Larceny By False Timecards Is Another.

Environmental police officers have been paid almost $1.4 million in overtime and state pool and park details during the past two fiscal years, records show.

“These services are needed, but these services need to be performed during their normal patrol time,” said the source. “There’s not enough to do as it is during their normal patrol time.”

During one of environmental police Sgt. Chris Folan’s patrols, he towed a boat from Lakeville to Hingham and spent the next few hours just hanging around.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s former campaign driver, James McGinn, is the director of the Environmental Police. He did his best to avoid an interview with 5 Investigates, but we finally caught up with him at the end of a recent work day.

We asked him if it is acceptable for one of his officers to be at home for six hours during one shift.

“We’d like to see that and we’ll take action,” McGinn said.

But overall McGinn said he is OK with his officer’s working from home when they’re writing reports or washing their cruisers.

Asked how many hours at home during shift would be acceptable, McGinn said: “It all depends. It all depends what type of report they’re doing. We’re a very unconventional police force.”

Unconventional Police Force?  Yeah I’ll Drink To That, Can I Log My Time In The Bar As Overtime?

5  Investigates also learned that under McGinn’s leadership the department last year removed GPS tracking devices from all environmental police patrol vehicles after being asked to do so by the police officers’ union.

Beginning in 2013, each police truck was equipped with a GPS tracking device called GeoTab, which allowed supervisors to see where their officers’ trucks were at any given time.

“I’m not sure why they would install at taxpayer expense GPS devices to these take-home vehicles and then deactivate them,” Nolan said. “I mean that’s a solid management tool that supervisory personnel can look at and monitor the comings and goings of these officers.

“I would question what the reason was, what the justification was for deactivating those devices,” Nolan added.

We asked McGinn why the GPS tracking system was scrapped.

“It was taken out for a cost-saving measure,” McGinn said. “We can’t use those GPS… we couldn’t just go to a computer and track our officers.”

Records obtained by 5 Investigates show the police officer’s union, Coalition of Public Safety, filed a complaint with the state Department of Labor Relations in 2013 — just days after management first installed the GPS devices.

A year later, the two sides signed an agreement which allowed the department to keep the monitoring devices in the trucks for “fleet management,” “dispatching” and “patrol analysis,” but prohibited “trolling” or going on a “fishing expedition” in the GPS database, looking for violations.

A department spokesman said the union requested the removal of the GPS system in 2015 — after McGinn had been appointed director — and that request was approved.

“It was more of a hands-off approach where there was less accountability, less supervision,” said the source familiar with how the department works. “And you know what they say, when the cat’s away the mice will play.”

The Environmental Police Department has a $10 million budget, so the GPS system was not likely to break the bank. The costs for all the devices was a little more than $11,000 and there was a $2,700 monthly charge for software and monitoring.

This Is Sick, Sick, Sick.  The Union Requests Removal Of The System So The Chief Says, OK, Fine?

I really find this difficult to believe.  Especially because I used to sell, implement and maintain systems made by the GeoTab company, exactly the equipment these folks are talking about.

I know it works and I know what savings can be attained if management just lives up to their responsibilities.

It’s one thing for a state agency to decide, “Oh no, GPS tracking is not for us right now”.  Shortsighted, perhaps, but totally understandable.  Management gets paid to make choices.

But Cheap, Highly Functional Devices Were Already Installed … And They Threw Away Taxpayer’s Dollars TWICE?

You can read more about another troubled police department here: GPS Tracking Watches the Watchers

Here The Officers Already Agreed To Be Monitored

The Agreement signed by management and the union is very clear.  The union agrees that it is management’s right to conduct “fleet management,” “dispatching” and “patrol analysis,” using the GPS system, so I can’t understand the chief’s decision at all.  He can’t complain that the rank and file were “revolting” so he took the system out to maintain workplace relationships.

The rank and file had already agreed to be monitored and the police vehicles were already equipped.  Dumbfounding.

Director McGinn, may I ask if you are familiar with the meaning of the word “malfeasance”?  The definition I use is:

the performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified, harmful, or contrary to law; wrongdoing (used especially of an act in violation of a public trust).

What more can I say about the fact that Patrol Officers Are Out Of Control?

New Jersey DOT is Smart — How About Your DOT?

New Jersey DOT is Smart.

Here are some excerpts from a recent article about the New Jersey DOT and their use of GPS tracking to fulfill their charter as a state agency paid to do a job for the taxpayer.

All to many such agencies have just become a huge money sink, providing vehicles to state employees but having no idea what the vehicles (and employees) are doing once they are out of sight.

If You Aren’t Tracking, Then WHY?

The most common excuse agencies give for NOT tracking vehicles is “Expense”.

But this is actually a totally bogus, “we don’t give a crap” excuse.

“Expense” is the primary excuse all government employees give for not doing their job … as if they had to pay for things out of their own pocket.

GPS Tracking Doesn’t Cost, It Pays

GPS tracking has been proven, time and time again to ALWAYS save more than it costs … as long as the agency who installed the GPS actually manages the vehicles with it and actually does something with the information.

The real reason so many managers are reluctant to implement GPS tracking system is, they are scared.

  • Scared they might find out things about vehicle use … as in how many vehicles or employees are really not needed.
  • Scared they might find employee abuse and actually have to take action to correct it, instead of letting the tax payer suffer in silence.
  • Scared they might actually not have an excuse to demand ever more money and do less of a job with it … the proverbial “Self Licking Ice Cream Cone.”

Send Us More Money And We’ll Keep On NOT Doing Our Job.

Fortunately, for those of you who live or pay taxes in New Jersey, the New. Jersey DOT is bucking the bad government trend.  Hat’s Off to them.  See:

New Jersey DOT using GPS to track use and abuse of state vehicles

 BY  KAREN ROUSE STAFF WRITER, The Record (I used to work for the Record, what a GREAT newspaper!)

Some scream up and down the highway at more than 100 mph. Others have done private jobs while on the government dime.

Then there are those who steal time by parking their state Department of Transportation trucks in mall lots, on side streets, even near bowling alleys, and take leisurely breaks when they’re supposed to be filling potholes, fixing signs or picking up dead deer on the highway.

“Like pigeons that go and hide, we have employees that like to go cooping,” said state Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson. They say, ‘Let’s go get a truck and hide out in the park.’ ” …

Uncommon?  Hardly.

This is so, so common it’s often hard for management to believe what is going on out there until they actually do track their employees and vehicles.  You can read more about how common “cooping”  here: GPS Tracking Watches the Watchers

… Jersey City Mayor Steven M. Fulop announced in August that the city had installed GPS in public works vehicles to “increase accountability and cut down on fuel expenses.”

The city initially installed tracking devices on 20 public works vehicles, and plans to expand it within that department and, eventually, to the Police Department.

New Jersey DOT is Smart
Are These YOUR Workers?

There has been “a culture of entitlement and abuse by employees (my emphasis) of city vehicles and we are taking every measure to ensure an end to that abuse,” Fulop said in a news release. The abuses, he said, have included taking cars outside of the city and using them for personal trips.

In an age when employees know the boss could be checking their Facebook pages or searching what websites they visit on company computers, many workers are not alarmed — as long as it’s done right, said Sandro Polledri, a civil trial lawyer in Newark who represents workers in discrimination cases. It’s acceptable to use GPS to investigate a worker’s productivity if not done surreptitiously, or during non-work hours, he said.

Just last month, the state DOT employees were issued a “Use of State Vehicles” notice that warns that “all department vehicles are equipped with a GPS system to monitor the location of the vehicle,” and that “the GPS system also records the speed of the vehicle and registers alerts when the vehicle is driven at high speeds.”

Violating the rules of the road or tampering with the GPS system could result in disciplinary action, including being fired, the notice says.

A separate department policy gives Simpson and the DOT inspector general 24/7 access to all transportation-related properties, including 69 yards, four rest areas, two regional headquarters and maintenance complex, as well as access to all vehicles within a yard, and structures in the yards….

If Yu Are Running An Agency (or a business) You Already Have the “Right”, and, IMO, The Duty

So many people seem afraid to implement GPS because of supposed “legal issues”.  This is almost as common as the “no funds” excuse.  But as attorney Polledri points out, it’s not really rocket science.

However for many officials it does involve an unfamiliar process … that is Growing Some Balls.

What the heck do you get paid for, anyway?

Are you afraid that if you exercise your authority the employees will quit their cushy jobs?  Call their bluff.

The answer, which seems so simple, yet so hard for so many government leaders to utter is summed up right here:

“We’re the Department of Transportation. We have to set an example for everyone.”

I recommend you read the whole article … if, that is, you actually give a shit about how your tax dollar is being spent.

– See more at: New Jersey DOT using GPS to track use and abuse of state vehicles

So what do you think, the New Jersey DOT is Smart, or not?

Just How Good is Tesla’s GPS Tracking?

Just How Good is Tesla’s GPS Tracking?

I’ve written about this subject many, many times before … example here: GPS Tracking Can’t Find Flight 477 — and Why

But I Don’t Think I Have Mentioned Tesla Yet

Tesla automobiles are really a techno-nerds delight.  There seems to be no end of the features packed into their sophisticated operating system. (Tesla OS)

And since the Tesla OS relies heavily on the GPS it’ no secret that one of the many appealing features if the fact the Tesla is almost “un-stealable”, and if the car ever does get stolen, it will be continuously tracked by Tesla computers and thus easily recoverable by law enforcement.


In real life, though, things mat be a little different:

Two Tesla Model S PJust How Good is Tesla's GPS Tracking?90Ds have been stolen in Europe recently and despite the vehicle’s always-on GPS tracking software, the pair have disappeared without a trace.

On June 11, a Model S was stolen in Dusseldorf, Germany with the thief managing to take off with the electric sedan despite not having a key. Then on August 2, another was stolen, this time in Essen and again without a key, leading to speculation that the thieves may have hacked into the cars.

Electrek says there is a possibility the thieves could have hacked into the Tesla accounts of the owners. From there, they could have unlocked and driven the vehicles through the available smartphone application.

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be much of an issue because the GPS system of the Model S makes it incredibly easy to track as it is always displaying the vehicle’s location. Strangely however, no GPS signals have been found from either, leading some to believe that the GPS systems may have been jammed or the sim card removed. (my emphasis) (read the whole article here)

Blocking GPS

There are many different ways to block GPS signals from being received.  But in this case I doubt this was done.  Blocking GPS reception to a Tesla vehicle is going to disable or degrade many features of the OS, and it’s certainly going to make the car less interesting to drive.

It’s also going to make the car less valuable if the intention is to sell it on the black market.  I mean why buy such a highly sophisticated car with many of the features missing or degraded?

The possible answer?

Don’t Block GPS Reception, Block The Tracking

The Tesla OS relies on 3G and 4G  wireless (cell phone) services in order to send the car’s GPS location back to Tesla’s central monitor and control computers.

In order to use these wireless services, the car has a SIM card (Subscriber Information Module) just like every working cell phone is equipped with.  Without a SIM card there is no two-way communication over the wireless network … USA, Europe or anywhere else in the world.

So All The Thieves Need To Do Is Remove The SIM?

It certainly seems that way.  Like any common commercial GPS tracking system, getting the cars location data back to the owner or controlling agency depends upon the cellular wireless network.

Couldn’t Tesla design the onboard computer in the car to shut the car down if it wasn’t receiving communication from “Tesla Central”?

Yes they certainly could, but the effects might be very unpredictable and annoying, even dangerous to customers.

The Entire USA, Much Less The Entire World Is NOT Covered With 2G or 3G or 4G Signals.

If you plunked down $100,000 plus bucks for a Tesla and then started driving off to your favorite hunting cabin in northern Minnesota to perhaps bag a deer before winter sets in, would you expect your Tesla to keep operating?  Even though there’s no cell signal for miles.

Well I certainly would.  So, I think, would the vast majority of Tesla owners.  Do the idea of designing the car’s own interface to make it dependent upon a cell phone signal just doesn’t seem doable.

So what do you think?

Just How Good is Tesla’s GPS Tracking?

GPS And The Mid-Life Crisis — More On Is It Legal to Track Someone’s Car?

Is it legal to track someone’s car?
Funny how I just wrote about what appears to be a lawyer being overcome by mid-life “wrong-headed thinking”, and then across my desk comes this account of a high school principal apparently acting on his urges rather the good sense we would expect he had been teaching his students for years.

Milan High principal accused of tracking car, suspended

Milan High School Principal John “Flipper” Burks has been suspended without pay after he received a criminal summons charging him with electronic tracking of a motor vehicle in Madison County.

Is it legal to track someone's car?According to documents filed in Madison County General Sessions Court, Burks is accused of placing a GPS tracking device on a woman’s car without her or her husband’s knowledge or consent.

On Oct. 12, a witness reported that Burks was seen squatting next to a car and placing his hand underneath the vehicle while it was parked at the LIFT Wellness Center in downtown Jackson. This occurred three times, in mid-September, on Oct. 8 and on Oct. 11, according to court documents.

On Oct. 13, a tracking device was found on the vehicle, which belongs to Susan and Daymon Warren, court documents say. Madison County Sheriff’s Office investigators interviewed the couple, who said they didn’t know the device was there.

A criminal summons on the misdemeanor charge was issued Tuesday, and Burks turned himself in to the Sheriff’s Office, according to court documents.

Burks hasn’t responded to an email requesting comment and did not immediately return a phone call.

Milan Special School District Director of Schools Jonathan Criswell said Burks has been suspended without pay pending the investigation and disposition of the charges made against him.  … Continue reading here

It Is Illegal in Jackson County, Tennessee, That’s For Sure

I get these “is it legal” questions all the time here, and in so many cases it’s really dumb to even ask.

This is one of those really dumb sounding examples.

We all have a reasonably accurate idea of the scope and duties of a high school principal’s job.  One does not have to be a lawyer or a rocket scientist to figure that entering on private property (the wellness center’s parking area), and touching someone else’s private property (the Warren couple’s car) is probably a long, long way outside the job description of any high school principal’s job I’ve ever heard of.  How about you?

You Should Always Seek Competent Legal Advice

But sometimes plain old common sense and the basic principles of ethical behavior that your mom tried to teach you will suffice.  Some things to think about BEFORE you make a move:

  • What’s your motive?  What reason do you have to track another person’s car?  If you think they are up to something criminal, the answer’s easy … put it in the hands of the police.
  • If you think it’s a romantic interest of yours cheating on you, think twice about really wanting to know.  What if you do find them cheating?  And if you suspect and then do not find evidence, is a relationship without trust really worth it?
  • If you suspect something underhanded but perhaps not criminal … like, perhaps a city employee living outside the city and lying about it, then hire a licensed private investigator, and make sure s/he understands rules of evidence … gathering evidence illegally may make the evidence useless.
  • And very importantly, don’t touch someone else’s vehicle without permission.  It’s almost certainly illegal and always wrong.
  • Finally, don’t trespass on private property.  Going onto the parking lot of a clinic for example for illegal purposes is probably a crime even if you never actually place a tracker.

In Short, Act Your Age and Don’t Watch Too Many Crime Shows.

So what are your thoughts?  Is it legal to track someone’s car?

GPS And The Mid-Life Crisis — Is It Legal to Track Someone’s Car?

Is it legal to track someone’s car?

Goodness, how many times have I been asked that question here?

Usually, my standard answer is to consult a lawyer. If you don’t have one in mind, here’s a lawyer who seems well-versed in GPS laws. (or maybe not).

WILLIAMSPORT (PA) — A lawyer in Lycoming County has been accused of illegally placing a tracking device and audio recorder in the vehicle of the South Williamsport woman who had jilted him.

Michael J. Casale Jr. 64, of Williamsport, was charged Thursday by South Williamsport police and released on $25,000 unsecured bail. The arrest affidavit states Casale confessed and told police he knows he committed a crime.

Police said the investigation began March 14 after the woman reported finding a GPS tracking device and audio recorder while cleaning out her car…. Full “Is It Legal” article here:

So, What Was The Charge?

Well if you’re interested and you read the article, you’ll see that several serious charges were levied against the man.

…. Casale is charged with burglary, criminal trespass, interception of communications and criminal attempt to intercept communications…

Where’s the GPS in All This?

Notice that the acronym GPS appears nowhere in the charges.

The police charge he committed burglary (in gaining entry into another’s property), criminal trespass (becuase to place the device he had to have trespassed upon another’s property), and “interception of communications”.

No mention whatever of the GPS tracking aspect of the case … the aspect the reporter and editor chose to write the headline about.  It made a good headline but GPS tracking itself didn’t figure at all in the case.

If You Intercept Private Conversations, You Don’t Need to Worry About “GPS Laws”.

The reason you needn’t worry about specific “GPS Tracking Laws” is that you’ll be violating some other, more serious laws and any “GPS offenses” (should there be any) will likely be the least of your legal worries.

The formal charges all relate to the fact the offender place a “listening device” in the woman’s car … perhaps intending to record her conversations with the new boyfriend.

Trespassing and Eavesdropping are Serious Offenses, With or Without GPS

Here’s a news flash:  I’m not a lawyer, and this is NOT legal advice, but I’m pretty darn sure that placing unauthorized listening devices to capture private conversations is illegal in every state of the union.

I think that’s why even law enforcement agencies have to get warrants from a court of law to eavesdrop on suspected criminals in their homes or offices.

So Is Placing a GPS Tracker On Some Else’s Car Legal in Pennsylvania?

Well froIs it legal to track someone's carm this article, I can’t really say.  One ne thing for sure, the police didn’t choose to charge the offender with any GPS-related offense, if there was one.

The man is in trouble enough with just the charges already levied.  In addition to whatever the court sentences him to, I’m almost certain he faces censure.  Maybe even disbarment by the bar association.

GPS Tracking and Divorce

And notice in the last paragraph, he’s already married.  Hmm, one can only imagine how the news of his arrest affected his wife.  He may well wind up needing a divorce attorney as well.

Can you imagine the conversation between this lawyer and his wife when she finally found out?

I would love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation, but then again, I’m glad I wasn’t, because that would have been eavesdropping.  Maybe trespass as well 😉

So What Do You Think?

Is it legal to track someone’s car?

Another County Administration With Their Head in the Game

Hat’s off to Hildago county, Texas.  County leadership there joins the exclusive league of politicians who actual care about their responsibility to the taxpayers and the safety of their workers.

In addition, Mr. GPS will be happy to assure them they are going to save a lot of money on fuel and vehcle maintenance.

Read just some of the cases the country has already discovered showing the vaue of GPS tracking.

GPS Systems Installed in County Vehicles

Hidalgo County is striving to provide more accountability, efficiency and safety in its operations and with the use of taxpayer money.

Last week, the county installed GPS systems in county-owned vehicles that are assigned to five departments.

County officials said GPS systems in their vehicles will help county departments be more effective and efficient with taxpayer money.

GPS ROI TrackingA government watchdog group said they’re happy to hear the news. They’ve been pushing for GPS systems on county-owned vehicles for some time. County officials said the benefits are widespread.

In a previous CHANNEL 5 NEWS report, we told you about an employee who took a county truck from the Precinct 4 lot after hours and without permission. Its history was tracked through a GPS installed system. It had traveled many miles and was damaged in the process.

Objective Watchers of the Legal System (OWL) spokesperson Fern McClaugherty said this shouldn’t be happening.

“We’ve gotten phone calls from people from Edcouch that there was a county vehicle. We heard in Hidalgo. We’ve heard several restaurants. We’ve had some that have been found at strip joints,” she said. “This is why it’s so important that we know where the vehicles are and that the people that drive them know that the taxpayers are watching.”

McClaugherty said she’s happy to hear that Hidalgo County is taking steps to monitor their vehicles.

Last week, GPS systems were installed in 70 cars and trucks assigned to health and human services, facilities management, worker’s comp, the health department and executive office.

“These units will be able to tell you the travel time from point A to point B. They’ll be able to tell you how much mileage that unit has put on within a certain period of time,” Hidalgo County Executive Director Valde Guerra said. “They’ll also be able to tell you whether or not your battery is low for whatever reason. It will give us reports. It will give us alerts, so again that was the primary reason.”

Guerra said employee safety was also a big factor in purchasing the systems.

“We did have an incident in the past where we had an individual that was dispatched and we lost communication with him,” he recalled. “We had to file a wellness report because we couldn’t find the gentleman. At the end of the day, everything was okay with him but we did lose track of him for quite some time.”

Guerra said the systems will also help hold the county accountable along with its employees.

“The individuals in the units are made aware that there is a tracking or GPS system on their unit,” he said. “The individuals know at any given point in time we’ll be able to know where they went, where they were at or where they didn’t go. If they said they were going to go to location A, we’ll be able to track whether or not they went to location A.”

The executive director said employees who don’t follow the rules that are set will be dealt with accordingly.

The county plans to install GPS systems in about 40 more of their vehicles, which are expected in 45 to 60 days.

Happy 10th Birthday — GPS Insight

Just noticed that my colleague Rob Donat and his hugely successful GPS tracking provider firm just celebrated their 10th year in business.

And what a10 years it has been.  You really should visit Rob’s site and pay attention to the story how he grew the business from one firm he was doing private consulting for to a firm of 85 employees today with more than 80,000 GPS tracking  units in service.

If You Think You Can’t Build a Business in “Bad Years”

Here’s what Rob has to say about the last 10 years of his journey:

I “spun off” GPS Insight from my consulting company as its own legal entity 4/15/2005 after about 6 months of development for a single local fleet customer.  I never imagined where the company would be 10 years later.  With the economy as difficult as it was, our only option was to grow and innovate, and it has worked out well for our company as well as employees and customers. – See more at:

gpsi_logoIf You Think GPS Doesn’t Pay

Ask some of GPS Insight’s 2300+ plus customers.

West Coast Sand and Gravel Saves 5,205 Gallons of Fuel per Quarter by Reducing Idling

Large Beverage Fleet Receives 133% ROI with GPS Fleet Tracking Software

See more:

Case Studies and Customer Successes


Happy 10th birthday GPS Insight, can’t wait to see what the next 10 years bring.

Florida Joins the Need a GPS Warrant Club — With a Nautical Twist

Pretty interesting article From Wired here.  Not only is it talking about cell phone data — which I have been preaching for years is way more dangerous to you privacy than GPS data, but it brings up some really scary cell phone technology I wasn’t aware of … STINGRAY.  Ever heard of it?  You’ll want to, read on ..

Cops Need a Warrant to Grab Your Cell Tower Data, Florida Court Rules

The top of a cell phone tower.

The top of a cell phone tower. Getty Images

Americans may have a Florida drug dealer to thank for expanding our right to privacy.

Police departments around the country have been collecting phone metadata from telecoms and using a sophisticated spy tool to track people through their mobile phones—often without obtaining a warrant. But a new ruling out of Florida has curbed the activity in that state, on constitutional grounds. It raises hope among civil liberties advocates that other jurisdictions around the country may follow suit.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that obtaining cell phone location data to track a person’s location or movement in real time constitutes a Fourth Amendment search and therefore requires a court-ordered warrant.

The case specifically involves cell tower data for a convicted drug dealer that police obtained from a telecom without a warrant. But the way the ruling is written (.pdf), it would also cover the use of so-called “stingrays”—sophisticated technology law enforcement agencies use to locate and track people in the field without assistance from telecoms. Agencies around the country, including in Florida, have been using the technology to track suspects—sometimes without obtaining a court order, other times deliberately deceiving judges and defendants about their use of the devices to track suspects, telling judges the information came from “confidential” sources rather than disclose their use of stingrays. The new ruling would require them to obtain a warrant or stop using the devices.

The American Civil Liberties Union calls the Florida ruling “a resounding defense” of the public’s right to privacy.

“Following people’s movements by secretly turning their cell phones into tracking devices can reveal extremely sensitive details of our lives, like where we go to the doctor or psychiatrist, where we spend the night, and who our friends are,” said Nate Freed Wessler, an attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “Police are now on notice that they need to get a warrant from a judge before tracking cell phones, whether using information from the service provider or their own ‘Stingray’ cell phone tracking equipment.”

The ruling constitutes the first time that a state court has reached this finding under the Fourth Amendment. It comes at a timely moment when federal courts of appeal in other jurisdictions are in the midst of taking up the question of cell tower data, Wessler told WIRED. Even if other jurisdictions rule differently, the Florida case makes it more likely that the issue will one day get to the U.S. Supreme Court. If it does, civil liberties advocates hope that the federal court would rule as it did on the use of GPS tracking devices used by police, determining that it constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. Though the court in that case fell short of ruling that the use of GPS devices requires a warrant, law enforcement agencies around the country have changed their practices as a result of the ruling.


Stingrays are equally as invasive as GPS trackers, if not more so since GPS trackers are generally used on vehicles traveling public roads. Stingrays, however, can track the mobile phone wherever it goes—inside an apartment building and even down to the exact apartment where a person resides….

Scary, eh?  Well there’s a lot, lot more to the Stingray problem than the ACLU is talking about.

I’m going to do an extensive study on Stingrays starting next week on my sister sister,   Come over when you have a chance, it ought to be interesting.

Just because people say you’re crazy doesn’t mean they aren’t after you …

Do These Look Geostationary to You?

I’ve just been reading quite a bit about the sad story of Malaysian Airways flight 370, the horrid way Malaysia and some other nations involved just don’t even attempt to do air traffic control. and a lot of claptrap about the GPS system and how it should have tracked MH370 right to it’s final resting place.

One thing I found in quite a few places were reference aftre reference to the GPS satellites being iin geostationary orbit.  Well, hate to tell you this, but they are NOT.  Note the neat animated graphic above from Trimble.