GPS laws — Updating Needed

Laws on GPS use need to be updated

WHEN Global Positioning Systems (GPS) first came on the scene, they were used mainly by local law enforcement and federal government agencies.

Now they’re available to businesses and parents who want to use them to track employees or children. General Motors uses GPS technology in the NorthStar system in many of its higher-end vehicles.

A GPS in a cell phone or in a car can bring peace of mind to parents who want to keep track of their small children while they work, or can monitor teenage drivers after they get out of high school. Also, it can be used by spouses who are suspicious of what their mates may be up to… Read Article Here:

Often the general news media hue and cry about GPS and privacy issues is so lopsided or ignorant I don’t even bother to read it or post about it.

But here’s an article from the Argus that short, to the point and with which I totally agree.  In general,

  • If you won a vehicle you can track it
  • If folks work for you, you can track them with their prior consent
  • If you’re a parent, you can track your child
  • If you carry a cell phone it is subject to tracking, GPS or not

Those four generalization however don’t begin to track the surface of GPS …. I should say  … tracking law.  I am at heart a person who believes that in many ways we already have too many damn laws.  But I can’t deny that in the case of rapidly expanding new technology we need new laws … or significant clarification of old ones.  Let’s take one example from my bullets above.  Parent tracking child.  If, by child, we mean a natural offspring under 18 years of age, although I am not a lawyer, I think you can safely say that you can track that person, with or without their consent, in any of the 50 states.  Whether or not you should track without consent is another story for another day (I think not), but I don’t think one of your own children could successfully bring suit against you for doing so.

What about a stepchild, though, as in the story the article references?  Wanna make a bet?  I sure don’t.  Although in many cases the law would consider your rights the same as a natural parent there are dozens or hundreds of other factors that might enter in.  What does the child’s natural parent think?  How old is the child?  on and on. 

Now let’s say you have some vehicles in your business.  You place tracking devices on them and use the information you gather to help you run your business.  So far I think you’re on safe ground anywhere.  But one day you find some egregious employee misconduct by an individual, you fire him, based on what you "see" him doing via the GPS records.  He files a wrongful termination suit.  Does he have a chance?  Again, something I wouldn’t make a bet on because the law is so silent on this matter it’s like a vacuum.

You give an employee a company-owned laptop.  You take care to insure that there is no GPS device attached to it because you specifically want to avoid the tracking issue.  Now the employee downloads a free software like Loki and sends his location back to the office unintentionally, proving he’s in Fenway watching the Sox when he swore he was going down to Providence that afternoon to see a client without fail.  Can you fire him based on knowing his location without his knowledge, even if he was the person who installed the technology? (I’ve written about this non-GPS location technology here).  Among other things it does this:

Location-Based Search and ‘Virtual GPS’

Loki pinpoints your exact physical location and then uses that location to make the web revolve around you wherever you are. With Loki you’ll always know where you are, make sure that others know where you are too, never get lost and always be able to find stuff nearby.

The law should tell us what we can’t do, and by default then we can do what the law doesn’t speak to us, but we can’t take proper advantage of GPS and wireless technology with today’s deafening silence.  GPS is in the forefront on this issue but there are other common tracking technologies, in particular cell phones (even those without GPS) and wireless IP tracking technology.


  • Patricia

    I am now even more confused then when I started reading.

    • dave

      Trisha, how can I help you get un-confused? What are you really trying to learn?

  • denise

    loan company wants to put it on, seems like its a privacy issue because i don’t want to be tracked. is that legal

    • It depends strictly upon the laws of your sate and what you sign up to in the loan contract. If you don’t want the tracking, then find another lender. It’s most likely legal for them to ask permission to do so, but nothing requires you to do business with them. I seem to get a continual stream of questions like this where people who are not in law enforcement ask questions about what is legal.

      Who cares? Are you a cop? Just vote with your feet and deal with businesses that you prefer … why try to change the behavior of others?