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GPS obsessed

29 August 2018

The Life You Save Could Be Your Own

By James Neely/Guest Author

Seventeen-year old Brittanee couldn’t have predicted that the GPS tracker located in her cell phone would become a crucial piece of evidence in a police investigation. But when she disappeared on April 25, 2009, authorities used the signal to determine her last known location, giving them a starting point for investigation. While the search continues nearly one year later, still, investigators say that evolving GPS tracking technology has been key as they seek to discover what happened to the missing girl.

No one likes to consider the possibility of a son or daughter going missing, but unsolved disappearances occur every year. While the GPS tracker in Brittanee’s cell phone did provide aid to investigators, cell phone GPS tracking can be uncertain since cell phone towers tend to be less concentrated in remote areas, causing signals to drop. Parents who want a more dependable way to keep tabs on their kids can find what they’re looking for in a wearable GPS tracking device. Personal safety trackers have gotten progressively smaller and easier to conceal, so that if a kidnapping does occur, the perpetrator is less likely to discover and remove the device.

Clipped onto clothing or carried in a purse or backpack, the GPS tracking device will send a signal at intervals to a computer receiving device, enabling parents to check in on their children or teens at any time throughout the day. Many models also come equipped with perimeter alerts, allowing parents to designate “safe” areas. If the wearer crosses the perimeter, the GPS tracking device will send an alert to the parent’s email or cell phone.

People who live alone or who must travel at night frequently should also consider purchasing a tracking device and asking a trusted friend or family member to check in on them from time to time. If they do become a target for foul play, investigators can locate them and send help much more quickly with the information provided by a GPS tracking device than would be possible without one.

While Brittanee’s friends and family still hope for closure to her story, doubts remain as to whether the exact occurrences will ever be fully known. By taking the initiative to purchase GPS trackers for themselves and their families, parents can give themselves peace of mind in knowing that they’ve done everything in their power to keep them safe.

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Stepping Up the Pace

By James Neely/Guest Author

Individual sports enthusiasts can seem a little obsessed to the average couch potato. Runners carry gadgets to monitor heart rate, keep track of pace, determine routes, and analyze performance. Then they go home and enter all the information into a spreadsheet so they can refer to it later when they blog about their goals and share accomplishments on Facebook. True exercise devotees, however, believe that it’s important to watch performance every day in order to gauge readiness for that next 10K or marathon. That’s why GPS tracking companies have developed tracking devices specifically geared toward monitoring exercise capacity and accomplishments.

A GPS tracking device such as Nokia’s Sports Tracker or the Garmin Forerunner watch can perform all the functions that traditionally required five or six gadgets strapped to the wrist, clipped to the waistband, or hung around the neck, and can also let friends and family members know where the wearer is at any given time. The best trackers monitor speed, distance, pace, and heart rate in addition to location and some can also store data for comparison purposes. Athletes in many different sports have come to rely on the technology, including runners, bikers, skiers, and windsurfers.

Sporting events use GPS tracking for non-athletic purposes as well. This year’s Super Bowl incorporated highly publicized tracking capabilities to monitor the location of players and vehicles en route to the game, as did the Winter Olympics. Fleet tracking enabled security personnel to keep closer tabs on the athletes and their vehicles with the goal of preventing potential terrorist activity or even petty theft.

While most people will never be an athlete at the Olympics or the Super Bowl, they can still benefit from GPS tracking. Even those who don’t run five miles every day can keep track of their exercise progress with a GPS. Beginning exercisers who just want to know how far they’ve walked can use a simple tracker to monitor location and view a printout of recorded activity throughout the day. Those who want more detailed information can purchase one of the specialized watches that offer physical exertion information in order to compare performance on any given day with progress over time.

Sports enthusiasts, people exercising to lose weight, and people who just like being outdoors can all benefit from the technology GPS tracking brings to their activity of choice. Simply strap on your watch, step up your pace, and let your tracker do the rest.

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Breaking the Addiction

By James Neely/Guest Author

Much has been made of the ability of GPS tracking units to monitor paroled criminals or to help convict suspected criminals by pinpointing their location at a given time. Lawyers handling drug cases, for instance, can use GPS tracking devices placed in a suspect’s car to follow that suspect to suppliers, making the apprehension of the entire drug ring possible. Now, a new study being conducted by David Epstein of the National Institute on Drug Abuse seeks to attack the problem from the other direction by determining whether GPS tracking data can help drug users break their addictions.

The study follows 25 heroin addicts by giving them GPS tracking devices and asking the participants to answer questions sent to them via PDAs to determine where they are when they use drugs. Each participant must sign a consent form in order to be involved in the program. Epstein hopes to determine how environment plays a role in addictions and to use that information to help addicts break the cycle of addiction.

GPS tracking devices can give much more information than simple location. They can also record how long a person stays in one place, what direction he is currently traveling in, and the speed at which he is moving. All of this information can prove vital when trying to determine how a person’s location influences the actions he takes. By transmitting location data every 25 meters or every 25 minutes if the carrier is standing still, the GPS unit may indicate whether a person always relapses in the same neighborhood. If so, that information could be used to help recovering addicts better plan their movements in order to avoid pitfalls.

Drug addiction has long been considered a neurological disorder, and Epstein’s study does not seek to displace that idea. If his findings conclude that relapses often occur in particular types of neighborhoods, the GPS tracking devices his participants carry could be a jumping off point for helping not only drug addicts, but also recovering alcoholics to avoid places that could cause them to relapse.

The war on drugs continues to fight battles for the health and well-being of countless drug users and those at risk for using drugs. With the help of GPS tracking, significant strides may be made toward creating a program that helps recovering drug addicts take control of their lives by making choices that will increase their chances of success.

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Law and Order and GPS Tracking

By James Neely/Guest Author

The outcome of a courtroom trial usually depends on which side has the majority of hard evidence to support the case they are trying to make. The prosecution may be able to make a logical case against the defendant, but without physical evidence, conviction is nearly impossible. As GPS tracking systems have become more prevalent over the last few years, more and more lawyers have begun to introduce data from the devices as evidence to prove a person’s location at a given point in time, which can either support or contradict witness testimony.

In one well-known case, William Jackson was convicted of murdering his daughter, Valiree, and was sentenced to 55 years in prison, primarily due to the evidence gleaned from a GPS tracking device in his truck. The data gleaned from the device showed that, although the man denied visiting the location where the body was found, he had in fact been very close by. The case was appealed, but the conviction was upheld since officers had obtained a search warrant before gathering data from the tracking device.

As GPS tracking evidence becomes more common in lawsuits, more and more cases will depend on the data availability. This also means that rules for admissibility will need to be defined more clearly. For instance, in order for GPS data to be considered evidence for or against a person’s involvement in a particular situation, council must demonstrate that the person in question was carrying that GPS tracking unit. In some states, a warrant must be obtained in order to track someone or to use data gathered from an already present tracking device. GPS tracking units can provide very specific data, but unless that data can legally be connected to a particular person in a material way, it may not bring about the desired result.

Cases that can benefit from GPS tracking evidence vary widely. A person accused of a crime can use GPS tracking evidence to show that he or she was elsewhere at the time; a drug ring might be apprehended by means of a GPS device placed in a suspected vehicle; family courts might use GPS devices to monitor placement exchanges and behavioral issues such as unsafe driving or drinking while driving in order to decide child custody cases.

Despite the privacy concerns that have surfaced regarding GPS admissibility in court, legal use of GPS tracking can help convict criminals that might otherwise go free. Although the lives of people like Valiree Jackson can never be reclaimed, GPS tracking can help protect others from encountering the same fate.

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Scientists Track Dolphins with GPS

by Greg Bartlett / guest author

After an unprecedented rescue of 11 dolphins stranded in the Wellfleet peninsula’s mud flats near Boston, MA, scientists associated with the New England Aquarium have placed GPS trackers on the freed mammals to ensure their safe return to the ocean. Experts say that after such a traumatic experience, dolphins will require some time to recover before they venture back into open sea. Causes for such a stranding are still difficult to determine, but current theories point to confused echo-location, which occurs more frequently in areas of higher human activity. But for now, the rescued dolphins are swimming cautiously within Cape Cod Bay, though rescuers are hoping that they resume normal activity soon.

The use of GPS tracking systems to monitor marine life has increased rapidly in recent years, thanks to advances in accuracy and miniaturization. For scientists working on limited grant funds, the improved affordability doesn’t hurt, either. Commercially available GPS trackers can be outfitted to collars which can be comfortably placed around larger marine life. The technology is temporary and may be removed after scientists are sure the animal is safe, or when a particular research project is complete. Some trackers are small enough to be placed internally, though the cost and complication of such a method makes it unpopular.

Back in 2008, rescuers in Australia performed a similar operation to the one in Wellfleet. After a pod of pilot whales was rescued from a beach in Tasmania, scientists placed GPS trackers on several to ensure their safe return to sea. The GPS trackers provided clear location data to those shadowing the whales, giving them peace of mind about the whales’ safety, as well as valuable insight into their behavior.

The opportunity to study marine life is also certainly an appealing feature of GPS trackers. Earlier this year, researchers at the Hatfield Marine Science Center made some interesting discoveries regarding the behavior of sperm whales while tracking them with GPS technology. Location data provided by the trackers seemed to show the whales cooperating to herd in groups of squid. The whales would take turns covering the different positions of a 3D perimeter—effectively creating an inescapable ball where squid would be trapped until eaten. Simply no other tracking technology would have been able to gather this data. Non-GPS solutions may have altered the sperm whales’ behavior or not given the scientists the flexibility and mobility they required.

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GPS Tracking and Employee Accountability

by Greg Bartlett / guest author

Employer surveillance of company employees has long been a source of debate in the corporate community. Advances in technology provide many options for employer monitoring, but some types may be a violation of employee privacy, or have other inherent disadvantages. How do you balance privacy rights with the company’s need to make sure employees are behaving ethically on the job? What is acceptable and legal, and what crosses the line?

While questions of legality still loom over e-mail, recorders, cameras, and phones surveillance, GPS tracking devices are generally considered legal and reasonable (read about a case of GPS tracking and what the administrative law judge decided). This type of device might be particularly useful to companies or small businesses that require employees to make deliveries or trips without managerial supervision. While honesty is expected in employees in every type of work, sometimes the temptations inherent in delivery or travel style jobs may be too strong for even your best employees.

Statistics show that over the past three years, 33% of employees admit to stealing from the company, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce blames 30% of failures in business on theft by employees. There is an old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—and one of the best ways to prevent dishonesty in traveling/delivering employees is to implement a GPS tracking device in the company vehicles. This is also a way to prevent uncomfortable confrontations and loss of profits in your business. Simply knowing that this device is present may help employees to think twice about “that one little errand only a little bit out of the way,” and may help keep them honest about travel log reports.

There are two types of GPS systems—active and passive. Both systems utilize satellites that orbit in outer space. Generally, groupings of three of these satellites compile data about the latitude and longitude of the individual/vehicle/object wearing the receiver. An active GPS tracking system allows you to download information to the internet or a mobile device for constant surveillance. A passive GPS tracking device is more of a record of what occurred (where the vehicle went, where it stopped, etc.). Depending on the way your company operates, either system would provide valuable accountability and prevention for employee theft whether it is a pizza delivery route or delivering more valuable products.

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Should Offenders be Tracked with a GPS Locator?

Criminals are out on the streets. Should you be upset? Maybe, maybe not—it may be a part of future experiments utilizing a GPS locator. The economic debate in California continues to rage, and one possible solution on the table is releasing prisoners.

Incarcerating offenders can be a costly endeavor—in 2007-2008, the proposed budget for corrections in California was $4,061,703,000. According to the Newsletter of the Federal Courts, the costs of correction/incarceration are as follows: for imprisonment: $63.51 daily (per person); for community correction centers, $52.29 daily (per person); and for supervision by probation offers, $9.61 daily (per person). The annual cost for incarcerating an individual in a prison is $23, 183.69. In 2006 alone, $68,747,203,000.00 was spent on correctional facilities, and according to available information, those who are held because they cannot afford bail cost $9 billion per year in housing.

GPS tracking for criminals can cost between $8 and $12 per day. That would be between $2920 and $4380 per person per year, a tremendous savings. An important part of this debate is how GPS tracking actually works. A system of 24 satellites orbits in outer space, working in groups of twos or threes (almost always in groups of threes) to determine the latitude and longitude of the receiver on earth. The receiver can be attached to a person or vehicle. Active systems offer moment-by-moment tracking, while passive systems are a historical log of events. Active systems would be the choice for criminal tracking.

The specific components for criminal tracking usually include a receiver worn on the ankle. According to information on the Heartland Institute website, there is also a removable tracking unit that records violations when communication with the non-removable anklet is cut. While this option is the perfect solution as far as saving money is concerned, there are also other important issues at stake.

Does merely tracking a criminal keep society safe? If we are only tracking petty thieves and non-violent offenders, are the savings worth the risk? If our goal is “punishing” the offender, does GPS tracking really meet the need? What is the motivation for the offender to be on “good behavior” while being monitored? For one thing, the risk of incarceration may not be worth the temptation—possibly one hope of proponents of GPS tracking. Weighing through the issues (both advantage and disadvantages) may take some time, but hopefully as the technology continues to advance, safe and effective means of both cutting expense and securing safety can be achieved through GPS tracking devices.

Greg Bartlett is a guest author who specializes in writing about GPS technology and has earned two master’s degrees.

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GPS Tracking Integral to Amanda’s Bill

On Thursday, March 18th, the Kentucky State Senate passed its version of a bill that would allow judges to mandate the wearing of GPS tracking devices by domestic violence offenders. Named after Amanda Ross, a domestic abuse victim murdered outside of her home in September 2009, the bill represents an amalgamation of tools for civil and criminal courts in preventing repeat offenses by those who violate the terms of a restraining order.

Some criticize the Senate version of the bill for being too soft, since it only allows judges to place GPS tracking systems on those who violate a protection order issued by the court. The previous version, passed by the House, gave judges the opportunity to track any offender named in the order. The revised bill also places limitations on the use of the data from the GPS trackers. Law enforcement would need a warrant before accessing the tracking information.

But while Amanda’s family, who in September began pushing for this bill to become law, says they are not entirely pleased with the current version, this is nonetheless an acknowledgement of the need to employ technology to protect victims of abuse.

At least a dozen other states have passed similar laws, and the results of employing GPS trackers have been dramatic. Towns in Massachusetts, Indiana, and Colorado that have GPS tracking programs in place have seen huge reductions in domestic violence.

However, a simple GPS tracker is not enough, and most lawmakers realize this. Those who drafted Amanda’s Bill included an extensive array of non-technical tools which would provide greater safety for those at risk of abuse. Given the power to choose whether a GPS tracker would be appropriate for a particular offender, a judge could access a variety of databases to search out prior histories and other resources. On the enforcement side, police officers in the state would be required to attend training about domestic violence every few years. Other officials involved in domestic violence cases would also be given greater procedural guidance in terms of how to inform and counsel potential victims.

GPS tracking remains a valuable tool for law enforcement and the courts. The technology has improved in recent years, and real-time tracking now allows for near-instantaneous delivery of location data in most parts of the country. How officials gather and distribute that information, however, will determine the continuing safety of those scarred by violence.

Greg Batlett is a guest author who specializes in writing about GPS technology and has earned two master’s degrees.

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