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What GPS Tracking Systems do the Government Use?

written by: KennethSleight•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 3/29/2011

The United States Department of Defense developed GPS and now there are hundreds of services that utilize this technology that is freely supplied by the government. Government GPS tracking systems are used for everything from commercial fleet management to tracking incoming aircraft.

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    Are There Different GPS Tracking Systems

    Government GPS Tracking System Essentially there is only one GPS system and it was developed by the United States Department of Defense. The the system itself consists of 24 satellites orbiting the Earth in stationary orbits all with the capability of using L1 and L2 signals. The difference is not in what system the government uses, but more in how they use it. The government GPS tracking systems employs several modes of signal acquisition for the standard open frequency of the L1 broadcast to the formerly military-only L2 broadcast. The use of dual mode (L1 and L2) receivers for military and internal security has been documented. These dual receiver models are capable of pinpointing a receiver to within one centimeter in only a few seconds. Even though there are dual receiver GPS units available to consumers the price is still well above $1,000 a unit.

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    Why Does the Government Use GPS?

    The government uses dual band receivers for military applications as well as internal applications to monitor suspected criminals. The case of Juan Pineda-Moreno showed how Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents covertly applied a GPS tracking device to the underside of Pineda-Moreno’s car without a warrant. Pineda-Moreno appealed his case because he felt that the DEA agents infringed on his fourth amendment rights. The Ninth Circuit Court upheld the use of the GPS tracking device.

    The Lightning GPS company claims that their injectable GPS tracking system can be implanted under the skin of any animal and allow for short term (72 hour) tracking that is accurate to within five feet. They claim on their website that the U.S. government and some contractors use their system.

    There are several less covert uses for government GPS. The U.S. government uses GPS tracking systems to coordinate launch times for space missions and to help coordinate relief efforts during times of natural disaster.

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    What about GPS Augmentation

    There are several augmentation programs that are available for both government and civilian use. These augmentations include the Nationwide Differential GPS System (NDGPS), Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS), Global Differential GPS (GDGPS) and International GNSS Service (IGS). Each of these systems uses either a space-based or land-based set of reference points to enhance the accuracy of the GPS system. These are not all of the systems in place – there are some military applications that have not been released to the public.

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    Future of Government GPS Tracking Systems

    There are already plans to update and upgrade the current L1/L2 systems with an L5 system by the year 2020. This new system will be open access like the L1 but will have the accuracy of the L1/L2 dual receivers. This upgrade will allow manufacturers to utilize microchips that currently retail for around $3 to produce tiny GPS units with incredible accuracy.

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    References

    http://www.lightninggps.com/personal-tracking/gps-implant.html

    http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2013150,00.html

    http://www.executivegov.com/2010/08/ninth-circuit-court-secret-gps-tracking-is-legal/

    http://www.gps.gov/systems/augmentations/index.php

    Photo Courtesy of NASA