am a bit worried about my elderly Mum. She told me she was going to Mass but I
happened to drive past and I couldn’t see her car there. My kids like going for
a walk with the dog along the Tracker-Riley cycleway. How do I know that they
haven’t met with foul play? I am riding my bike early in the morning through
our kangaroo infested mountain bike trails and I am late home. My wife would
like to know if I am just slow today or if a kangaroo might have taken me out.

only there was a way to keep track of the location of my family and loved ones
to know where there are at all times. It will come as no surprise to you to
know that there is a technology solution – with possibly some ethical
questions. But more of that later. First – the technology.

Global Positioning System (GPS) is the first step in finding the location of a
device. The first 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 on
the back of a commercial airliner being shot down after navigational errors
caused it to stray into Soviet prohibited airspace. It took until 1993 for a
full constellation of 24 satellites to be fully operational and providing
services to the world. With various policy changes to allow increased accuracy
for civilian use and additional launches and upgraded systems, we now have the
current 31 satellites in orbit at 20,180km above the earth serving our GPS

creativity and ingenuity of humans will never cease to amaze me – and it wasn’t
long after GPS was available that the first companies starting selling GPS fleet
tracking devices. Companies quickly started selling large and expensive 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 habits.

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.

next step forward is where we really want to focus. Looking 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.

forward to today and the technology we have available to track people and
things is quite incredible.

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 and TrackR are two such low-cost devices that use 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. That brings me
back to one of my first points. The ethics. There are certain laws in place in
relation to tracking in terms of 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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