GPS Tracking: Public Safety vs Citizen Privacy

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GPS technology was no doubt instrumental in catching international terrorists following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. It certainly has proven convenient in users’ lives in everything from online shopping to mobile banking or finding directions to places while en route to looking up fun destinations while travelling. The ability to do such things with the help of GPS is amazing, but, after the recent release of activities that the NSA and other government programs use the same GPS monitoring for, some individuals are beginning to question whether the rights to privacy that United States citizens gave up in order to be “terrorist free” were really worth it.

The point being made isn’t so much whether or not we should be using GPS technology (smartphone users love it) but rather, how much access should the government and other entities that collect our private information and use it (potentially) against us have to that data. Some legislature has been tossed around to protect mobile device users from third party marketing firms that gather and sell our private preference data to interested, unauthorized companies. However, since the recent NSA revelations, critical public backlash is building against the government’s apparently unbridled and unquestioned access to every move that GPS tracked citizens make. Besides wiretapping, which has been in place for a long time, US government agencies are now known to be involved in phone record obtainment from their own citizens and have the capability, for those individuals deemed foreign (international) or a threat, to collect photos, video/audio, and browser search/email data (and, in turn, the possibility to do the same to US residents). States have been known to GPS track (via microchip) drivers’ IDs for information. 

It’s no wonder, then, that many Americans are now concerned for their privacy and the implications that being tracked bring. As of 2011, findings from research polls show that over half of Americans prioritize the preserving of individual freedoms over protection from terrorist activities. That’s not to say that some GPS monitoring shouldn’t occur; the same findings show that over 60% believe some compromise must be made within citizens’ rights to uphold national security. No doubt that where GPS tracking is concerned, as the activities of the NSA and other government agencies come to light, serious discussions will be necessary to draw the line between public safety and individual privacy.

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Claire Richards

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