GPS Tattle Tales

I’ve blogged before about electronic discovery in the context of divorce cases .  Cell phones have been used to track parents in cases involving the disappearance of children.  Automobile mounted GPS devices, which are less ubiquitous but getting more common every day, are also being used to pinpoint a person’s exact location at a particular time after the fact. In researching this post, I found a Yahoo group,, devoted to GPS forensics and a Forensicswiki article.  Here’s an article from the Associated Press about how prosecutors are using histories from dash mounted GPS units to track the suspect’s movements at a particular time.  Detectives can extract histories of map searches and destinations entered into the GPS.  Some units have a “track back” feature that shows exactly where the unit was at a particular time. In a page from James Bond, the police have used GPS trackers hidden on suspect’s vehicles to track them.

If you’ve ever seen “Goodfella’s”, you may recall a paranoid Henry Hill driving around town while he watches for helicopters overhead that he believes are tracking him. Now all the FBI would do is stick a small GPS device on Henry’s bumper.  Agents could track him from the office via computer.  Any agents actually keeping tabs on the suspect would only need to be within a few blocks. Pretty amazing.

Blogger Nathan Smith
speculates that GPS could be used to control the post-release location of convicted criminals.  That is, as a condition of probation, child predators might have to wear a GPS that would alert law enforcement when they go near playgrounds, schools, daycares, or other likely locations for children.  DUI offenders might be barred from liquor stores and bars or a GPS in their car could even be used to notify law enforcement of “excessive weaving” or other erratic driving that might indicate drunkeness. Big Brother really would be watching you.

Of course, I don’t practice criminal law. So what does this have to do with civil cases?  This type of evidence may already be in use for divorce cases and the like.  I sometimes handle cases involving construction.  Often a bone of contention will be how often the contractor was on the job site.  The owner will say the construction was delayed because the contractor was “never there.”  The contractor will swear he was there almost every day, but it was always while the owner wasn’t present. If the contractor’s vehicle is GPS equipped and if it stores a long enough history, then it might be used to prove exactly how often the contractor was actually at the job site.  Likewise, an employer might use GPS to determine if an employee was slacking off. This kind of evidence could be used in any case where location is a material issue and disputed. 

The fact that your GPS keeps information such as your home and work addresses may be a problem even if you’re never involved in a lawsuit.  According to ConsumerTech, personal information may be available with the right tools even if you’ve reset the device to its factory original state.

All rights reserved:  Harry Thomas Hackney, P.A., 2008

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