GPS Error Trips Up Police

iPhones Help Police
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We’ve grown to view GPS as almost perfectly reliable. After all, it tells us exactly where we are, how far we are from our destination, and what is in the area around us. It seems there is always a new report on further improvement to the technology, narrowing its accuracy and making it even more useful. As anyone with a home computer knows, however, it’s a mistake to take any electronic device for granted. Sometimes they simply don’t work, and many of those times there is no apparent reason for the error.

When military and law enforcement units use GPS, error can have very serious consequences. These agencies rely on geolocation to execute military operations, keep track of personnel and prisoners, and find stolen items. A recent police operation in England that was meant to trap an iPhone thief led instead to embarrassment, confusion, and the destruction of a perfectly innocent front door.

The victim of the original theft came up with a great idea to give the police a head start in finding his iPhone. He simply entered the phone’s information into his iPad, identified its current GPS coordinates, and notified the police of the location. He led police to a private home in a quiet neighborhood. Upon further investigation, officers decided that there was enough evidence to act on.

The police surrounded the house, kicked the door in, and took a look around. A while later, they left the house without having found any sign of the stolen iPhone. As it turned out, GPS error had caused the phone to transmit a faulty location and provoke the invasion of a perfectly innocent person’s house.

Understandably upset over the damage and trauma inflicted for no reason, the owner of the house demanded reimbursement from the police. But what seemed like a simple request was met with refusal and an explanation from a lawyer. Because the GPS information, combined with statements from neighbors that pointed to suspicious activity at the house, constituted reasonable evidence, the police were justified in raiding the house. Since the officers followed protocol and had no reason to doubt the reliability of the GPS reading, the lawyer argued, they were not legally responsible to pay for the damage.

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Mark Rummel

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