GeoCarta Has Moved

Nov 21, 2005

GPS Raises More Privacy Concerns

Initially used to track long-haul trucks, global positioning system (GPS) technology has since moved into law enforcement, allowing officials to track sex-offenders and parolees in real-time on maps that appear on their desktops. Now as the technology becomes widespread in the workplace, some are raising privacy concerns.

MSNBC reports on one example:

The news trucks at WABC-TV were recently equipped with Global Positioning System transmitters, raising concerns among the station's union workers about privacy. It's a small but growing workplace topic as companies increasingly embrace the GPS technology already in use to track everything from wayward teens to sex offenders.

"We're concerned about the possible misuse of the information that these systems can supply," said Gene Maxwell, head of Local 16 of the National Association of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians. "In particular, we wanted to make sure that it really wasn't going to be used as a disciplinary tool."

The union wants a training session so all employees understand the system's capabilities, which allow the instantaneous tracking of all equipped vehicles — exactly where they are, and exactly how long they are there.

The technology is a very useful tool for increasing productivity. It also can be valuable in maintaining quality service. We're all familiar with those brown note pads that the UPS driver asks you to sign. The latest generation device comes equipped with a GPS receiver, it warns the driver if he attempts to deliver a package at the wrong address.

As GPS becomes increasingly common in delivery vehicles, construction machinery and tractor-trailers, companies are finding that a side benefit of the system is the ability for checking up on their employees. MSNBC reports that a worker for Automated Waste Disposal was caught by the system speeding. Metropolitan Lumber & Hardware in New York used the technology to catch a delivery driver goofing off.

The technology is so new that there's not enough case law to know exactly what a worker's rights are regarding being watch by an eye in the sky. Until congress or the courts weigh in on the issue, workers should bear in mind that anytime they are in a company vehicle, "big brother" may be watching.