first Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite was launched in 1978 by the US
Military with the intention for it to be for military use only but in 1983,
then President Ronald Reagan, announced that GPS would be made available for
civilian use. The system became operational in 1993 and we now have 31
satellites in orbit at 20,180km above the earth serving our GPS needs.

creativity and ingenuity of humans will never cease to amaze me – and it wasn’t
long after GPS was available that companies started selling large and expensive
GPS fleet tracking devices – with horrendous monthly fees – that allowed fleet
managers to retrospectively look at vehicle movements. They were typically
employed in heavy vehicle fleets that were used for long-haul transportation.
Data was downloaded weekly or monthly for driving efficiency to be analysed by
the fleet manager and possibly to ensure the driver maintained good driving

the technology advanced and systems became cheaper and smaller, fleet managers
who were buoyed by the success on their heavy vehicles started to fit devices
to their light vehicle fleets. Again, a retrospective view could be used to
compare time sheets and log books with the actual location of a vehicle. The
sales rep might now need to justify why his vehicle was parked for only ten
minutes outside the store he was visiting but seemed to be outside the pub for
most of the afternoon.

back at a log a week or month after the event is one thing but with the
increased coverage afforded by the mobile phone networks around the world and
the reduction in price of data services, real-time vehicle tracking was added
as an additional service. Now a manager could see exactly where a vehicle was
at a given point in time. In the US, the first employee GPS monitoring case
came before the courts in 2013. His employer suspected that the employee was
submitting false time reports and returning home from extended business trips
earlier than his timesheets showed. The employer’s action was to secretly
attach a GPS unit to his vehicle. Their suspicions were confirmed and the
tracking information showed that he was spending considerable work time at the
house of his secretary – and she wasn’t taking any filing work home with her!
He was dismissed and the court of appeal said that using a GPS tracking device
to confirm suspicions was reasonable.

units in vehicles are still available but they are now cheaper and smaller.
They can be used for real-time or retrospective tracking. Going a step further
though most of us carry a powerful GPS unit in our pocket every day. A modern
mobile phone uses AGPS (Assisted GPS) which delivers even faster results for
location tracking. There are a multitude of apps available for your smartphone
that will allow other users – with permission – to track your whereabouts. It
was way back in September 2011 that Tahira Donohoe made the national news when
her phone was stolen at school and Tahira and her Dad then used ‘Find my
iPhone’ to track the bus that the thief was on. They eventually brought the
Police into the chase and they recovered the phone.

a step further, there are devices that are not much larger than two coins
joined together that allow tracking and recording of the device’s location.
Tile is one such example of a low-cost device that uses Bluetooth connections
to nearby phones to allow a device to be tracked and located. My youngest
daughter has a Tile in her favourite teddy bear so she can always find it.

is no doubt that the technology is available to track cars; people and things
and the accuracy – even inside buildings – is surprisingly good. Then there is
the question of the ethics. There are certain laws in place in relation to
tracking employees but I am not sure of the legality of tracking family
members. Ethics and the law are not always aligned but the answer to me seems
fairly simple. Inform. If you want to track employees or family members or
teddy bears, make it known that tracking is in place and the reasons why and,
once agreement is reached, who could complain? I just hope the teddy bear union
doesn’t find out about my daughter’s situation!

Mathew Dickerson


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