In our increasingly connected and monitored society, privacy is becoming a scarce commodity. More aspects of our lives are under surveillance in one way or another than at any previous time in history. This phenomenon is likely to only increase and as it does, we must remain vigilant in advocating for our privacy rights. One way that our privacy is or may be coming under attack is though our use of mobile cellular telephones. Many of them already are equipped with GPS systems and this trend as well is absolutely on the increase. Soon, all cellular communications devices will be equipped with GPS chips. The embedded GPS technology means that for the first time ever, a huge number of citizens can be located and tracked with astounding accuracy.
I believe this topic is extremely important and that if we the citizens are not vigilant, tracking of our every move by many agencies will become routine. Naturally, it could soon become that we all essentially accept that our exact location is always known. It is logically only a matter of time before criminal individuals and organizations learn to leverage tracking data. There will also be more opportunities for other forms of abuse of the information such as for undue prosecution, harassment, and marketing. In many science fiction works, our future includes an all-knowing, all-seeing government and in many ways, GPS data can be seen as part of that not far-fetched or so distant future scenario. It is already happening and awareness and action is what it will take for citizens to keep the encroachment on our privacy in check.
Well over 300 million cell phones are in use in the United States presently. Each of those represents a potential tracking device that provides real-time data to the cellular carrier via either an embedded GPS chip or tower routing data. This capability has created a unique strategic opportunity for police and emergency officials. However, the FBI and other agencies have been increasingly accessing GPS data, often without warrants establishing “probable cause” (Isikoff, 2010). Clearly, this is cause for alarm as this is a major potential threat to personal privacy. The fourth amendment protects U.S. citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures and accessing GPS location data without a warrant, some insist, can be classified as a form of unreasonable search. However, the fact is that GPS data is not protected by the fourth amendment as many feel it should be and it may some day be.
This technological advancement could be the key to saving lives, apprehending criminals, potentially even stopping crime. But there are downsides to the availability of this kind of technology. We citizens may no longer be entitled the privilege to roam freely without someone potentially tracking our every move. A constant awareness as to exactly who, meaning what organizations, can do that tracking, how accurate is that tracking, and are those discoveries stored and for how long should be the goal of a privacy-minded, rights-advocating society and individual. Unfortunately, legislation is slow to develop to limit realistically how, when, and by who cell phone GPS data records can be accessed. Most disturbingly, law enforcement agencies have not been required to follow the same guidelines for having to obtain warrants to access GPS or other cell phone data as they would for other forms of search or seizure. However, presently all the major cellular carriers track phone GPS data and store it for various periods of time.
Law enforcement agencies have embraced the ability to track individuals using GPS data from their cell phones. This comes as no surprise and surely law enforcement agencies should be using every tool available to level the playing field with a criminal community that does not hesitate to leverage technology to the fullest. GPS tracking has been credited in