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Hey Big Brother, Do You Know Where I Am?
Can the government track you on a handheld GPS to find you, if they were so inclined? Hmmm, what are you worried about if you don’t owe any back taxes and haven’t engaged in any criminal activity recently? Perhaps you were in the wrong place at the wrong time and now you “know too much.” Or maybe the possibility of a government that has this capability, without your knowledge, is a little disturbing, and justifiably so. On the other side of the coin though, it could be that this tracking ability could conceivably save a person’s life if they were lost or injured in a remote locale. But what do they really need to know about where your handheld GPS unit is if they’ve already secretly installed a chip in the back of your neck that automatically tracks your location no matter where you are? Okay, perhaps that last hypothetical scenario is the result of one X-Files episode too many, but this question is still a curious, and important one, as there are many issues regarding an expectancy of privacy at stake.
Is the truth about this supposed capability of the government really accessible to the average citizen though? We can’t answer with absolute certainty because the U.S. government has been known to hide the proverbial ball from time to time. And when I worked for the government, as a combat infantry grunt with my esteemed and revered fellow ground-pounders, we weren’t exactly in the know; but rather far outside of the higher up’s circle of trust. The poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, summed up our role best, in the vast scheme of things, in The Charge of the Light Brigade; "Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die." But since that role is over now, I’ll ask all the questions I want; thank you very much. If you’re still reading this article, you’ve probably got at least a modicum of interest in conspiracy theories, so maybe you’d also be interested in learning Where and Why Are there Blacked Out Patches on Google Earth?
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Is Your Handheld GPS Device More than just Your Trusted Navigator?
So, does that GPS unit you own have a secret agenda hidden within that internal, electronic circuitry that enables it to act in cahoots with government officials or not? Since these devices are manufactured by private corporations that have employees who are outside the direct control of the government, it seems doubtful. Somebody would have talked, unless an “unfortunate accident” precluded them from doing so, right? The average handheld GPS device cannot be tracked remotely by government officials. It tells you where you are but, presumably, the government doesn’t have the resources to tap into GPS satellite to try and find the location of one individual GPS device. Personal locator beacons and devices made specifically for tracking purposes are a different story since they’re designed for that purpose. But our best guess is that the portable GPS device you own will not betray you to any G-Men. However, should any of our dear readers know differently, we invite you to comment below ... at your own risk.
With all that being said, according to an article in Time Magazine, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (their jurisdiction includes California and eight other western states) ruled that government agents can sneak onto your property and install their own GPS device under your car to track your location no matter where you go. This ruling specified that they needed no warrant to do so either. Does this violate your reasonable expectations of privacy? These judges didn't think so. So even if your own GPS device won’t betray your present whereabouts, the government can still use their own to find you, provided you’re driving in your car. So finally, I leave you with the following question - you be the judge; is real life becoming more like the intrusive Big Brother -type government imagined in George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty Four?
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Time Magazine: The Government Can Use GPS to Track Your Moves. August 25th, 2010