GPS Provides Sense of Security for Domestic Violence Victims

Ramsey County hopes to extend the GPS monitoring pilot program recently used in its domestic violence cases. Authorities have seen initial success from the program and would like to see it extended so that they can collect a larger body of data. Bills in the Minnesota House and Senate would not only extend the pilot program but also establish standards for using GPS technology in all counties of the state.

Domestic Abuse

The Need for GPS Monitoring

The Minnesota Crime Victim Survey of 2010 revealed some alarming statistics that prove the need for some sort of monitoring system, be it GPS or otherwise. With a 60% response rate for the survey, the team gives the results a 95% accuracy rating when extended throughout the population. They found that 7% of women and 3% of men suffered from some form of domestic violence in 2010; these figures are up from the 2007 survey and represent more than 200,000 individuals in the state of Minnesota. When questioned about an overall life experience with domestic violence, meaning that responders on the survey had experienced some form of domestic violence at some point in their lives, the statistics jumped to a startling 27% of women and 8% of men. The survey also questioned responders about their feelings of safety, and most admitted to feeling unsafe in their communities and also feeling that they could not rely on police or other authorities to protect them.

The Answer in GPS Monitoring

Ramsey County hoped to address these concerns with a pilot program that uses global positioning system technology in its domestic violence cases to alert authorities as well as the victims of abuse when a defendant gets too close; it also helps keep defendants compliant with any no-contact orders that have been put in place by the court. The pilot was launched in November 2012 with an initial evaluation one year later. The county joined forces with Project Remand, a nonprofit organization, to screen every domestic violence defendant at his or her first appearance in court. If a defendant was eligible for release with monitoring, then he or she was offered a deal; however, both the defendant and the victim had to agree to participate. The incentive for volunteering in the program was a lower bail fee as well as protection from false accusations of breaking a court order of no contact. The defendant would wear a GPS ankle device that would notify authorities if a line was crossed; the device would also tell the defendant to go home. The victim wore a “stalker alert” device that would notify the victim through a phone call and text or email whenever the defendant in the case was too close; it would also tell the victim to call 911.

The Initial Results of the Pilot

abuse domestic violence drugsFirst year results of the GPS pilot program are encouraging. Although only 19 of a potential 170 defendants participated, 12 finished the program successfully. Going into the second year, 8 more defendants were added, raising the success rate to 16. The Ramsey County attorney’s office reported that “defendants who participated in the GPS pilot program demonstrated greater overall compliance with court orders and significantly lower rates of recidivism than the comparison group.” Though small, the results reflect similar studies across the country that seem to prove the effectiveness of GPS monitoring devices, not only in lowering recidivism rates among criminals but also in encouraging a sense of security for victims. As Ramsey Court Attorney John Choi said, “Ultimately, I think it really helps somebody who is very fearful for their safety. It gives them another layer of protection.” Choi went on to testify before Minnesota’s House Public Safety Committee along with others involved in the program to argue for an extension of the pilot. The program will end in June 2014 if a bill is not passed soon.

The Bill to Standardize GPS Monitoring

Representative Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato, is the author of the GPS monitoring bill currently before the Minnesota Legislature. His bill grew from a concern over the increasing number of deaths related to domestic violence in his state, especially those cases where a no-contact order or restraining order had been put in place but was violated. Those involved with the bill worked closely with the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women to establish statewide standards for using GPS devices, including making any program voluntary, ensuring that victims are kept informed at all times, and using active monitoring.

Though there were initial complaints about the size of the GPS monitoring devices and the lack of a cell phone for some of the victims, these concerns were both minimal and easily overcome The overwhelmingly positive results of the study make Ramsey County officials hopeful that the Minnesota Legislature will indeed pass the necessary bill to protect the life of not only the program but also the thousands who suffer each year from domestic violence.

Crime 101: Don’t Wear a GPS Tracking Device When Committing a Robbery

If there were a school for criminals, one of the courses might be entitled “How to Avoid Getting Caught.” And based on the actions of one Washington state criminal, one of the lessons in that course should be called “Don’t Wear Your GPS Tracking Ankle Bracelet When Committing a Robbery.” The Omak man accused of breaking into the Okanogan Eagles Hall in early March was reportedly wearing a court-ordered ankle bracelet at the time of the robbery. The individual had been convicted of robbing the same club two years ago in 2012. Police officers said that the mode of operation in March’s robbery looked similar to the suspect’s other criminal activity, so they checked the data from his tracking device. The device placed him at the scene and showed that he made several trips to the club and to a nearby motel at the time of the robbery. This time around, he and at least one partner allegedly stole $2,000. The two suspects were caught on camera as they broke in and pried open a safe.

courtIt’s easy to shake your head and laugh at this story, but it actually reveals a common misunderstanding about GPS tracking devices. The man accused of the break-in told police officers he didn’t know that the device would track his every move, and that he thought it would only be activated if he crossed county lines. But GPS tracking can do a whole lot more than that.

What Does a Court-Ordered Ankle Bracelet Do?

Unfortunately for this criminal, a GPS tracking enabled ankle device is more sophisticated than might be imagined. While it can be programmed to send an alert if the wearer crosses a boundary (such as a county or state line), the device also records data about day-to-day movements so that it can be reviewed at a later date to ensure compliance with parole terms. The information can also be viewed in real-time if necessary.

There are several specific ways GPS ankle bracelets have benefited law enforcement:

Paroled criminals Parolees have specific boundaries put in place to help police monitor their behavior. Ankle bracelets will send an alert if one of those boundaries is crossed.
Domestic violence cases If a victim of domestic violence is determined to be in mortal danger, the court can require the perpetrator to wear an ankle bracelet. Both the victim and law enforcement can then be alerted if court-ordered boundaries are crossed.
Crime investigations Officers can review ankle bracelet data to determine whether a particular individual has been involved in a crime.

Are There Any Drawbacks?

As with any effort to reduce crime, there will be individuals who try to thwart the system. In the case of GPS ankle bracelets, there are three primary concerns critics bring up:

  • Overcrowded prisons have led to criminals being on the streets when they should be behind bars. It’s true that in some jurisdictions, prison overcrowding has resulted in earlier parole or house arrest for individuals who would otherwise be locked up. Departments shouldn’t necessarily rely on GPS tracking to perform the same job that a locked prison cell would perform.
  • Criminals can still commit crimes while wearing the bracelets. This is also true. Especially in the case of sexual predators or domestic violence, the damage can be done before officers can reach the scene of the crime.
  • Criminals can remove the bracelets. With enough effort, the ankle bracelets can be removed, giving the wearer the opportunity to commit another crime or simply run.

All of these concerns are legitimate and point to a larger issue. The bottom line is that GPS tracking is an excellent tool to help law enforcement officers perform their duty. However, there are limits to what the devices can and can’t do, and those limits should be respected. Perhaps stiffer penalties for breaking or removing a court-ordered ankle bracelet could provide greater deterrents for violating the terms of parole.

Are GPS Tracking Ankle Bracelets Reliable?

Yes. When used in the manner in which they were intended to be used, GPS tracking ankle bracelets provide police with essential data that they couldn’t otherwise obtain easily. The devices record the wearer’s movements, activate alerts when boundaries are crossed, and provide real-time data that can be viewed now or at a later time. That’s something that would require hundreds of man-hours to perform using law enforcement personnel.

The bracelets may not be the final and best solution to the problem of prison-overcrowding, but they can help cash-strapped departments perform surveillance duties that might otherwise be impossible.

As for the Washington man who wore his ankle bracelet while breaking and entering, he learned a valuable lesson about just how reliable and accurate those devices can be. It’s a lesson he won’t soon forget.

Child-Friendly GPS Watch Can Help Keep Kids Safer

Child safety is at the top of the list for parents, school teachers, and others who routinely care for children. But caregivers can’t always have their eyes on the child every moment, and that’s why many have begun relying on GPS tracking devices to help keep tabs on youngsters. However, problems sometimes arise when the child forgets his device or takes it off. That’s why KGPS, a new Israel-based start-up company, has developed a child-friendly GPS tracking watch designed specifically for small children.

children-skiingWhat’s Different About the New Watch?

The HereO GPS Watch has been designed specifically with kids in mind. The band fits better on small wrists and is harder for children to remove, the watch itself is smaller, and the construction and colors were chosen partially based on the input of kids themselves.

Like other GPS tracking devices, the watch can be programmed to send an alert if a child enters or leaves a designated area. It can send periodic location data to parents and can also provide real-time location information.

GPS tracking watches offer an excellent way for parents to keep tabs on their kids when they’re travelling to and from school, spending some time with friends, or going on a field trip. Using the associated app, parents can check up on their kids using their cell phones and can also monitor the location of other family members who have the app installed on their phones.

Features of the HereO GPS Watch

The HereO GPS Watch has many of the same features included with other GPS watches, but it also has a few different twists. Some of the features include:

Child-sized wrist band Designed specifically for 3- to 8-year-old children
Basic Features Water-resistant, displays time only
HereO Family  Location App Provides monitoring capability via cell phone; also links to other family members’ cell phones running the app
Text messaging via app The app can broadcast text messages to all phones running the app or to individuals
Plot map routes Use the app to determine the best route to meet a person wearing the watch or carrying a cell phone with the app running
Multiple forms of data View location data periodically or in real time; receive a signal when barriers are crossed
Location history View several months of location information
Panic alerts Tap the watch twice and shake it once in order to send a panic alert
Rechargeable Battery Lasts from 24 to 72 hours per charge

KGPS plans to begin marketing the watch directly to consumers, but will sell it in stores at a later time.

Will It Be Worth the Expense?

The HereO GPS Watch will cost $149.00, including six months of tracking service. GPS tracking devices provide peace of mind for the people who wear them as well as for their family members. It’s impossible to put a price tag on child safety or on the peace of mind a parent could receive from having detailed location data available at all times. Each family must consider how much time the child spends away from the supervision of parents, what the potential risk factors could be, and whether they have the money to invest. Some circumstances might warrant the use of a GPS tracking device more than others, such as:

  • Families in which the child visits another parent in a different home on a regular basis
  • Children who spend a lot of time with a nanny or babysitter
  • Children who ride the bus or walk to school
  • Children who have activities after school when parents are not able to attend
  • Children who take a field trip or overnight trip
  • Family vacations to a busy theme park or other crowded place

What Else Should You Consider?

No one likes to think about the possibility of kidnapping, abduction, or a child simply getting lost, but the truth is that these things do happen. Nationwide, over 2,000 children are reported missing each day. GPS tracking may not be able to keep people with criminal intentions away from your child, but it can help track them down and put them behind bars if something does happen. In addition, if your child becomes lost, GPS tracking can help you find him or her quickly, reducing the amount of stress and anxiety for both you and your child.

A watch may not be the best solution for every child. Some children carry a cell phone, wear a GPS tracking device clipped to a backpack or pocket, or wear some other kind of alert device. All of these can be excellent ways to help keep your children safe. Ultimately, your decision depends on what works best for your family, how much time your child spends away from your supervision, and what specific needs and expectations you have in terms of tools for monitoring the location of your child at any given time.

Malaysia To Introduce GPS License Plates

Malaysia’s Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) Minister Datuk Dr Ewon Ebin has announced that citizens can expect vehicle license plates complete with built-in GPS device as an option for motorists in the near future. They will be available through the Road Transport Department (JPJ) following the official launch, which has not been scheduled as of yet.

state car trackingThese plates, 370 in all, will all begin with “1MCY” to designate their GPS tracking capabilities. Officials in Malaysia decided to give them a go to in order to promote MOSTI’s Commercialization Year (MCY) 2014, citing their ability to improve the safety of the vehicles they are placed on.

“The number plates, which are developed by Technology Park Malaysia, will also be equipped with reflective decals technology,” said Ebin to reporters following the launch of MCY 2014 held at the SIRIM Bhd Auditorium in January.

How They Work

There is no information on how these plates in Malaysia will work, so it’s difficult to say. However, California is also getting in on the GPS tracking license plate action as well. The California State Senate passed a bill that implemented a pilot e-license plate program. They say that this will make renewing your plates more efficient for all parties involved.

California’s concept involves a digital license plate, either solar powered or powered by the vibrations of your vehicle, that kind of resembles a tablet. You would install this digital plate just as you would the ordinary metal plate, and when it comes time for renewal, the DMV is able to wirelessly update the registration tags. Think about it – no need to wait in line at the DMV, no dealing with grumpy employees, and really, no need to leave the house at all.

With that convenience comes a price to pay: your privacy. The digital plates will feature GPS devices as the bill stands now. This is nothing new, as California police already scan license plates with cameras attached to their cruisers, saving the information complete with GPS location data in a database.

With the digital plates, everything changes. Now, it isn’t merely where you were one moment in time. Instead, they’ll have access to your whereabouts at any time at all, even when it is parked safely in your garage at home. What they plan to do with this technology has yet to be seen. However, it is still an uncomfortable feeling, knowing that you can be located at any time. At least in Malaysia, it’s up to the driver to decide if they want to have these plates.

SatelliteWatchingCarsIt has also been said in South Carolina, when the idea came up before legislators, that officials at the DMV will be able to take a set of plates once in good standing, in the event you lose your license, and change the image from your plate to something like, “EXPIRED” or “SUSPENDED.” If you lose your insurance, your plate will read “UNINSURED.” Now, everyone around you knows that you’re breaking the law. Again, this is one idea for how these plates could work here in the United States.

It’s more than likely a way to keep Malaysian vehicles safe since auto theft is a big problem there. With a GPS license plate, you’re able to find your car in the event someone has taken it. Giving the police access by just having the plate, rather than with a GPS device where they would have to get the location data online prior to finding it, saves precious time. But again, it cannot be said how they intend to use the GPS data there.

More Initiatives Revealed

Ebin told the crowd gathered there of eight additional MCY 2014 initiatives besides the license plates, each one created to encourage commercialization of products currently in the research and development phase. “The first four initiatives will be focused on preparing a technology commercialization platform to shift products from its pre-commercialization stage to the market more quickly and efficiently,” he said.

The four initiatives he spoke of include product development and capacity-building programs for entrepreneurs, as well as infrastructure facilities and access to market. He also indicated the ministry would set up what he referred to as an R&D information portal and directory, where investors can research potential products available as a kind of reference, helping them make good investment decisions. Others within the industry as well as researchers will also have access to this portal.

When it comes time to get the products to market, he said there would be an R&D gallery that would allow these award-winning innovative products to be on display, and a “Techshoppe” to sell them. “Hopefully, these initiatives will encourage other local researchers to improve the quality of their work,” he added.

The goal of the ministry is to help get at least 60 products in the R&D phase to market each year.

What do you think about these GPS license plates? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Is Employee Monitoring with GPS Technology Legal?

GPS tracking and navigation devices have become a part of everyday life in the U.S. and many other parts of the developed world. We have GPS on our phones and in our cars as little helpful tools that get us where we need to go, or even keep our loved ones safe. However, the very feature that makes this technology so helpful is also what makes it so potentially creepy. It is quite unnerving to think that someone might be tracking your every movement, especially without your consent.

Supreme Court GPSWe’ve reported on big, landmark cases that called into question under what circumstances the police could use GPS technology to track a suspect. We’ve also reported instances spouses and relatives, or just plain stalkers have used tracking devices to spy on their victims. There are serious privacy concerns to consider when using GPS technology, so where along the ethical line does employee monitoring fall?

Generally speaking, it is legal for employers to monitor employees by tracking company-owned vehicles or smartphones. An employer doesn’t have the right to track employees without them being aware, nor can an employer track employee’s personal vehicles or belongings. To be safe, employers should always check with the local laws and maybe consult a lawyer before implementing a tracking system. This way, you have all your bases covered and you can properly notify employees of the new system.

Recently, a Schindler Elevator Corporation employee in British Columbia challenged the legality of the employer’s GPS monitoring system. British Columbia has strict laws regarding employee privacy under the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). The employee felt that the company was violating his privacy rights by monitoring the vehicles of elevator mechanic drivers.

The company challenged the accusation, stating the the tracking system was primarily for business use and perfectly legal under PIPA. They did not collect any personal information, only vehicle information, so personal privacy was never violated. The main argument was that the GPS monitoring system provided legitimate benefits to the business, such as more efficient route planning, improved driver safety, and reduced “time theft”.

It was left up to the Privacy Commissioner to determine if the employees’ privacy rights were being violated per PIPA. The Commissioner agreed with the employee’s union that the data being monitored could be considered “personal”, because it could be used to identify an individual driver. However, there was still the question of whether the data being tracked was “employee personal information”. The law states that employee personal information could be collected and used without employee consent if “solely for the purposes reasonably required to establish, manage, or terminate and employee relationship.”

In order to determine if the privacy rights of the Schindler Elevator Corporation employees had been violated, the Privacy Commissioner had to consider the following questions:

supreme courtQ: Is the information collected of a sensitive nature? Is more information collected than is reasonably required for the employer’s purposes?

A: The information is not sensitive nor is more collected than necessary for legitimate business purposes.

Q: Is the collection and use of the information likely to be effective in fulfilling the company’s objectives?

A: The employer reported a 30 percent drop in accident costs since implementing the GPS System. This was a good indication the GPS System was effective in promoting safe driving habits. The GPS System was also effective in verifying hours of work.

Q: Are there alternative means to serve the same ends?

A: No. Self-reporting by drivers appeared to be the only alternative to the GPS System and this was not as effective.

Q: Has notice of the purpose of the GPS System been provided to employees?

A: The employees were properly made aware of the operation and purpose of the GPS System.

Based on these criteria, the Privacy Commissioner determined that the company was within its rights to use the GPS technology. Because there were plenty of legitimate business-related benefits to using the technology, and because the employees were properly notified of the monitoring policy, PIPA states that privacy rights were not violated.

The PIPA law is very specific to a British Columbia, so employers in other regions can only use this case as a guideline for best practices. Checking in with a lawyer is always the best way to protect yourself from unknowingly violating employee privacy rights. Whether you’re installing a surveillance system for security purposes, or you want to install a GPS fleet tracking system for your delivery service, knowing the local laws is always your safest bet.

Typically tracking company-owned property will be fair game, as long as employees are notified that their movements are being monitored. There should also be a business-related justification for the tracking, other than keeping tabs on your employee’s whereabouts. However, tracking an employee’s phone or car without them knowing could lead you to a world of legal troubles.

New Wildlife Crimes Unit Fights Poaching in Kenya along with GPS Tracking

Great news for environmentalists and wildlife advocates! It seems that the urgent need to protect Africa’s precious wildlife from poachers and illegal traffickers is being answered. In December of 2013, the Wildlife Conservation and Management bill was passed into law which aimed to enforce stricter enforcement of wildlife protection. On March 5th of this year, the Wildlife Crimes Unit officially started their efforts toward fighting the massive poaching problem in Kenya as part of the new law.

CC Image courtesy of SarahDepper on Flickr

“We are now well-equipped and ready to hit poachers hard,” explained Katto Wambua, new member of the Wildlife Crimes Unit and prosecution counsel in the office of the director of public prosecutions. He added that the unit will be a great asset to the war on poaching. The efforts have been fairly impressive so far. In less than a month, the team has been able to successfully close 26 cases against poachers. 15 of those cases had already been open, but were quickly resolved after being transferred to the KWS special prosecutors. The 26 cases had an impressive 78% conviction rate, especially compared to the police’s 20% conviction rate from January to March 5 when the Wildlife Crimes Unit began working.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keriako Tobiko, made a crucial decision to form the Widlife Crimes Unit. The unit aims to send a clear message to poachers, and the entire poaching industry, that wildlife crime will not be accepted in Kenya. “Prosecution will no longer be cited as the weak link in the justice process,” said Wambua. Much of the success of the new law is being credited to more collaboration and communication between KWS and law enforcement. “We regularly hold joint brainstorming sessions and training on the new laws and challenges to map out ways each actor could aid in the delivery of justice.”

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) are doing what they can to protect and monitor the endangered species. “We have 975 wildlife rangers against a demand of more than 2,000 officers,” said KWS Director of Security Julius Kimani. “That is why we want to supplement their effort by deploying drones to survey parks.” Unfortunately, they are still waiting for some of the funding to come in through donations and other sources before they can actually afford to deploy drones. In the meantime, they are using the GPS units and other technology available to them. “We are using aircrafts fitted with surveillance cameras and GPS tracking systems to monitor endangered species,” explained Kimani. “We have also fitted microchips on rhino horns in a bid to monitor their movements.”

CC Image courtesy of sarahemcc on Flickr

The major targets of the poaching industry are rhinos and elephants, slaughtered for their valuable ivory. It is gruesome and sad to most of us. It’s hard to imagine that such massive beasts as vulnerable. One would like to think an elephant could defend itself, but their dwindling numbers can’t be ignored. Their large size makes them easier to see from a distance, especially with binoculars or from a helicopter or other aircraft. Poachers are using heavy-duty guns to be able to shoot and kill elephants and rhinos from a safe (for the poachers) distance.

What’s more upsetting (to this writer at least) are the people funding and arming the poachers. Poachers often only take the job because there are few other viable opportunities to feed themselves and their families. In fact, a while back there was another effort put forward to deter poaching that worked very well: offer the poachers a job providing security for the wildlife reserves. One great aspect of the Wildlife Crimes Unit, is that it goes after all facets of the poaching industry.

One of the new provisions of the law allow prosecutors to ask magistrates and judges to not let poachers out on bond. “This way, we make sure they are not released and [that they do not] end up tampering with the evidence, intimidate witnesses, abscond from court proceedings or go back to poaching as many did,” Wambua explained.

One investigation officer from the Criminal Investigation Department in Nairobi, David Waweru, noticed a boost in effort towards fighting poachers and ivory traffickers since the Wildlife Crimes Unit was formed. Investigators were encouraged that their efforts would not “gather dust on the shelves of overwhelmed police and KWS prosecutors as it was before.” During the first three months of 2014, a whopping 253 poachers and traffickers have been arrested in Kenya.

“We have actually increased hours of surveillance against organized poaching rings and infiltrated their network,” Waweru said. He credits the improved quality of their investigation has led to much better success rates in persecutions. “I have confidence the combination of thorough detective work and timely, quality prosecutions will discourage would-be poachers through fear of legal punishment.”

GPS Tracking Bullets: The Great Debate

Some time ago, we featured a post detailing a new technology being employed by some police forces across the country, the GPS tracking bullet. If you didn’t catch that one, here’s the scoop. It’s essentially a mini-cannon mounted on the front of a police car. When the officer is involved in a high speed chase, they simply fire the cannon which ejects a bullet consisting of a “sticky” GPS device that can track the location of the vehicle no matter what happens.

police cruisersThere are police departments in St. Petersburg, Florida, Iowa, and Ohio are testing the device out, called the Starchase, and they feel it is a great addition. There are apparently those that have their reservations, as the ACLU has responded to various concerned citizens who approached them about the matter. The verdict from the ACLU, as written by Jay Stanley: “As a civil liberties matter I don’t see any problem with this technology if used as expected.”

How It Works

Mounted to the front of the cruiser is a small cannon, concealed by the front grill. It works as one of those t-shirt guns shot at sporting events would, powered by compressed air. When the officer is involved in a chase, he simply presses a button which triggers the grill to open. The bullet is fired, and the sticky substance containing the GPS device attaches directly to the back of the suspect’s car. At this point, the officer knows the car is being tracked and can slow down a bit.

ABC News reported that in 2013, the St. Petersburg police were involved in a total of 13 high-speed pursuits. Four of those ended with a car crash. And in 2012, there were 26 chases, with 17 ending in crashes. It’s obvious that high-speed chases are dangerous, for both the occupants of the suspect’s car, the police involved in the chase, and everyone on the road, including pedestrians. The Starchase is the solution, allowing police to back off. This might make the perpetrator feel as if the police are giving up, which will get them to travel at a safer rate of speed.

Iowa State Trooper Sgt. Scott Bright, in an interview with the Des Moines Register, said, “It’s a new technology that’s come out that’s going to protect a lot of people.” He added, “After (the suspect) thinks the officer has disengaged, they back down to normal speeds to blend in with traffic so they don’t get noticed again.”

Working Out The Kinks

policecarsAs it is a new technology, there is much to be tweaked before this is actually used in a real chase. In demonstrations, officers could only get one of the cannon’s four bullets to actually stick to the vehicle, and that vehicle was not in motion. Seeing as each bullet costs $500 each, that’s a high price tag for such poor performance. What’s more, you can only use a bullet once. The cannon itself costs about $5,000, which includes installation onto the cruiser.

If they can determine how to make it more accurate and determine how they will fund it, police departments all over the country could use this to reduce the number of car chases that occur each year. Who knows, maybe they could actually deter car chases from ever happening again.

The ACLU Weighs In

In his blog post, Stanley points out these devices are certainly useful, as long as they are used the way they are designed to work. He also sets some ground rules to ensure they aren’t violating anyone’s rights. First, the officer would need probable cause to chase the suspect in the first place. If they choose to use the cannon, they should be mid-chase, with no way of first obtaining a warrant. The device should be removed as soon as the chase ends and the suspect is in custody.

The most important point Stanley raises is his last. The police must capture the suspect as soon as possible after attaching the GPS tracking device to the suspects car. As he puts it, “no letting them wander around for extended periods of time without pursuing them, in order to learn things about them.” This makes sense, and ties in with the warrantless tracking stories we’ve been bringing you. The technology can be abused, which we all hope does not happen.

This technology changes the high-speed chase forever. No more “high-speed,” just a chase, in which the police have the upper hand. You can bet that the ACLU will be keeping its eye on this device, ensuring it is used as it is intended. We will also follow developments with this device closely to keep you up to date.

What are your thoughts on this device? Do you think that it’s the perfect solution to the fatalities that occur all over the nation due to high-speed chases, or do you think it’s just another tool the police can misuse, effectively violating our Fourth Amendment right? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

GPS to Light Up The Room

There aren’t many people that are a fan of interior lights of any form. You just can’t beat natural light, no matter if you are using bright white, energy-efficient bulbs, or even full-spectrum bulbs. This is why many people are drawn to installing skylights or solar tubes in their homes and businesses. They do an great job when the sun is right there above the skylight, but when the sun moves across the sky, the amount of light that comes through is diminished significantly. During the winter, the sun sits lower in the sky, and it’s even harder to get light to shine in a useful way.

SatelliteBut what if you could find a solution, manipulating the light as it moves to maximize the amount of light coming in? Ciralight has solved that problem with the SunTracker, a GPS device-powered lighting system that guarantees even, consistent light at all times throughout the day thanks to a series of moveable mirrors guided by a solar-powered GPS device. The benefit it provides, even, steady natural light, does much more than illuminate the room. It also conserves energy by allowing you to channel the sunlight for up to a purported 10.5 hours each day. Just how much will you save? They estimate you can reduce the time your lights are turned on from 50 to 80 percent.

How It Works

The SunTracker system relies on a set of three mirrors which are mounted to a frame capable of motion, all concealed within a polycarbonate dome. It directs sunlight downward through a diffusion lens that works to spread the sunlight out rather than focusing it into a single point when it comes into the building. There is a GPS device connected to it that determines where the unit is in relation to the sun, moving the group of mirrors periodically over the course of the day when needed. This ensures the most sunlight possible is filling the room, from the moment the sun rises, to the moment the sun sets. And what’s more, it’s designed to negate the typical temperature spikes due to sunlight coming through the skylight.

How effective is the SunTracker? Ciralight claims the device delivers up to 300% more sunlight than a ordinary skylight. This demonstrates the possible energy savings, which will add up over time. In fact, installing a SunTracker will earn you LEED credits towards your business’s LEED certification. However, it’s much more than that.

SatelliteThink about sitting in a facility with fluorescent lighting, or any other artificial lighting for that matter. How do you feel when you spend long periods of time in this sort of lighting? Probably not very well. However, there are numerous studies pointing to the health benefits of simple sunshine. Not only does it keep people upbeat, it serves to boost the morale of your workforce and makes them more productive. In numerous studies in a retail environment sunlight has actually increased sales, and in schools, children perform better on tests that are in schools lit by natural sunlight.

Celebrity Endorsement

Even musician Smokey Robinson supports this product. He is worried what the state of the planet will be when his grandchildren and their grandchildren grow up. He drives a hybrid car, and loves it, saying, “I am hoping soon that they will build one that runs on air!” He loved the concept of this product so much, he started his own distribution company called Globalight Energy Solutions LLC.

Even on a cloudy day, the GPS device will ensure the mirrors are always aiming for the sun. Just how much light does this unit provide? The SunTracker brings in light equivalent to 800 watts of standard fluorescent lighting without altering the temperatures of colors, as is typical with fluorescent bulbs. Instead, it makes everything look natural.

Light pipes are another option, but they just don’t do as efficient of a job as the SunTracker. For example, Italian designers Diego Rossi and Raffaele Tedesco invented the Zeno light which collects exterior light into an optical conduit, conveying it out through the fittings in a controlled way. The Zeno works with other light sources such as standard bulbs and halogen lamps, allowing interfacing of “efficiencies, temperatures, colors, and chromatic yields.” They are researching whether or not it’s “possible to distribute direct light from the sun and subdivide the cost of the system amongst the tenants of an apartment block.”

While the Zeno is another great solution, it just doesn’t match the capability of the SunTracker. The integrated GPS device sets it apart, allowing it to channel as much natural light into a building as humanly possible. More companies are looking for a  way to increase productivity and worker morale, and this is a highly effective way to do it, while saving money on energy costs. When you have all of that glorious natural light coming in throughout the day, you don’t need to turn on your electric lights.

Students Safer In South Bend, Indiana Thanks To GPS

Parents know the problems with school buses all too well. There are the days when the student misses the bus, scrambling to the bus stop only to watch the taillights disappear down the street. Then there are the days the bus itself is late. During cold winters or in the middle of a downpour, this is less than ideal. Very rarely, you’ll hear about a bus on the nightly news that didn’t arrive on time, hours late.

GPS tracking busesMany school districts are learning that the best way to ensure the students’ safety, and the sanity of parents and transportation officials, is by installing GPS tracking devices on all of the district’s buses. And although it can’t motivate students to get ready in time, it can ensure that when they go out to the bus stop in subzero temperatures, they aren’t left standing there for a long time. It can also point out the location of a bus that might be broken down, or indicate if there is a lost driver. The latest school district to get in on the GPS action: South Bend, Indiana.

MyStop

The South Bend Community School Corporation is giving the MyStop GPS tracking program a try, and so far, it seems to be going over well with administrators, parents, and students alike. 11-year old Max McCoy spoke to local news station WSBT, and he and the two neighbors he stands at the bus stop with loved the fact they could remain indoors until the bus approached. How does he do it? Max’s mom, Jo McCoy, simply checks her smartphone and the associated MyStop app to see exactly where the bus is at any given time. When it begins approaching their stop from the prior stop, the boys head outside to wait, sparing them prolonged exposure during the bitterly cold winter months.

“It’s been great because I can send them out about two minutes before the bus is headed into our neighborhood so they aren’t standing out there in the cold or the rain,” McCoy said.

How Does It Work?

school bus gpsSimply head to the website on your smartphone or computer, and log in using the student ID number as the username and then the password. You’ll see a map of your town, and exactly where the bus is located at any given time. If the bus is early, you won’t run the risk of missing your ride to school. If it’s late, you don’t end up standing at the bus stop in less than ideal weather conditions. You are able to watch the bus as it drives throughout its entire route, both morning and afternoon. It is not in real-time – instead, there is about a minute delay. As long as parents send their kids out when the see the bus is nearby, they won’t miss it. But if they wait for the bus to actually arrive at their stop on the map, they’ve missed it by a minute!

The transportation department is loving the new GPS devices because parents aren’t calling in incessantly asking questions regarding the arrival time of their child’s bus. It gives them time to deal with other department matters. The parents love it just as much because it gives them a certain level of peace of mind. They can check on the whereabouts of their child’s bus at any time they wish, and they know where there child is at all times.

Anyone with an iPad, iPhone, or Android device can download the app. The program did not cost taxpayers a thing.

Other Districts Love It, Too

It isn’t just South Bend using this useful app. Students in the Easter Carver County School District in Minnesota use it, and love it just as much. “This simple and informative tool gives parents, guardians and students the ability to know where their school bus is on the route,” Transportation Supervisor for Eastern Carver County Schools, John Thomas, said. “All of our buses are equipped with GPS equipment to track their locations. This will be a great benefit to parents on snowy mornings and afternoons, but also simply to see if the bus will be home on time.”

Other schools take it a step further, adding many different monitoring tactics that hold drivers accountable for the way they are driving. Some track the rate of speed, ensuring their buses are following all posted speed limits and keeping the children riding on board safe. Some incorporate the use of RFID cards the students must scan when getting on or off the bus. This proves without a doubt whether or not a child got on the bus that morning, and if they got off at their intended stop. All of this information is invaluable for the worried parent, and keeps drivers from practicing bad driving habits.

What do you think about this GPS tracking program? Do you think it’s perfect, or is it not robust enough?

GPS Tracker Ruled Unconstitutional

How familiar are you with the United States Constitution? According to a recent United States Court of Appeals case, police handling a string of pharmacy burglaries overstepped the suspect’s constitutional rights when they relied on a GPS tracking device to follow his movements. As the Constitution states, every citizen is to be guarded against unreasonable searches and seizures, and any warrant drawn up that could violate this right must find probable cause to do so.

GPS Tracking LawyerThe problem here is that evolving technology is blurring the lines of the term “search.” According to the court’s ruling in the case of United States v. Katzin, police had no right to employ the use of a GPS tracking device during their investigation. It is quite similar to the United States v. Jones story we have reported on extensively here at RMT. Let’s take a look at this more recent case.

The Back Story

It started back in 2009 and 2010. There were a number of burglaries that were strikingly similar, all at Rite Aid pharmacies in Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey. The local law enforcement worked side by side with the FBI to crack the case, and settled on their number one suspect, Harry Katzin. He and his van could be placed at or nearby the scene of each of the burglaries.

They briefly consulted with the US Attorney’s office, and decided to begin tracking Katzin’s vehicle without obtaining a warrant from a judge to do so. They were hoping to pinpoint his exact location at the scene of a related crime. They got what they wished for, and the GPS data showed Katzin was in the vicinity of a burglary that happened shortly before the data was reviewed.

State troopers pulled Katzin over, locating the items taken during the burglary right there in the van. Katzin and all of his alleged accomplices were charged, the van seized, and the items that were taken were cataloged and returned to their rightful owner.

The Problem

All of the evidence collected for this case wouldn’t possibly have been found without the help of that GPS tracker. The defendants in the case fought to have all evidence collected with the GPS tracking device excluded from the case, citing their Fourth Amendment right. In case you forgot, the Fourth Amendment explicitly guarantees every citizen “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The only time this amendment can be violated is if a search warrant is obtained, which the police in the Katzin case failed to do.

GPS law enforcementThe judges in this case looked to the US v. Jones decision handed down from the Supreme Court, basing its decision on that case. If you don’t recall what happened there, the Supreme Court decided that installing a GPS tracking device on a citizen’s vehicle without their knowledge does, in fact, constitute search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Of course, the Supreme Court was divided on the issue of whether a warrant would validate the search, but the Katzin case answered that question.

Difficult Decision

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals conducted a thorough review of the case, and delved into the question of whether or not one can consider a warrantless search via GPS device “reasonable.” Their decision: no, it cannot. The next question: what if there was probable cause? Police officers are allowed to search the car of the drunk driver they have just pulled over based on the alcohol they smell on their breath, or the bag of marijuana located right there in plain sight on the floor, so shouldn’t this be the same? Basically, they knew he was in the vicinity of all of these crimes, so shouldn’t they be allowed to collect evidence that simply cannot be disputed using a GPS device?

The court decided that using a GPS device just because the officers believed he might one day steal again doesn’t mean they should be able to track that person. It just goes too far. If an employer is required to notify employees when their company vehicle has a GPS tracker installed, why should it be any different than law enforcement officials? If this were allowed to continue, what would stop them from tracking anyone they deem suspicious, at any time? Why not track every single person who’s committed a crime, just in case they strike again? While there are many who might agree with this practice, many more see the problem that lies just below the surface.

Now, thanks to eager police who just had to get their man in what some consider “the easy way,” they were forced to throw out all evidence collected against Katzin. Unfortunately, that effectively ended the case itself – with no evidence to speak of, how can you say he truly did it? Hopefully Katzin learned his lesson and will never steal again. In the same respect, hopefully the authorities learned something as well.

Where do you stand on this issue?