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GPS Tracking of State Worker Raises Privacy Issues 173

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can-trust-us dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from a Times Union article: "How far can state government go in keeping tabs on its employees? That's the question a mid-level appeals court will consider in the wake of a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union against the state Labor Department, in the case of a fired state worker who was tracked with a GPS device that investigators secretly attached to his personal car. ... State officials tracked Cunningham's whereabouts by secretly attaching a GPS device to his BMW. The electronic tailing went beyond what would normally be termed Cunningham's work hours, since the device was on for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They even tracked him on a multi-day family vacation."
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GPS Tracking of State Worker Raises Privacy Issues

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 16, 2011 @05:01PM (#37424342)

    No reputable company would ever try something this egregious .

  • What reasons could the state possibly have had to put a GPS tracker on an employee's personal vehicle? And track the vehicle outside of business hours? This stinks of big brother and privacy intrusions. What an employee does on their own personal time and in their own personal car should be their own personal business. I could be buying hookers and blow every weekend but if I show up on time during the week and do my job, the state should have no say in the matter.

    • by nharmon (97591)

      This appears to be a case where the employee was using his vehicle for work-related transportation, and his supervisors began to suspect that the hours he was reporting were not the hours he was actually working. So instead of hiring someone to follow the employee (read: expensive), they attached a cheap GPS tracker and then retrieved it days or weeks later.

      Maybe a better solution would have been to provide him a state vehicle with a hidden GPS tracker. :P

      • by Amouth (879122) on Friday September 16, 2011 @05:21PM (#37424514)

        Maybe a better solution would have been to provide him a state vehicle with a hidden GPS tracker. :P

        Or an Obvious one, functional or not. That might have got him back into line if there was wrong doing, or show he wasn't worth keeping, either way it would have been far cheaper than a lawsuit even if they win it.

        • by Asic Eng (193332)

          If it actually was that important to them to find out whether he was working or not, they could have simply installed a visible camera at the entrance of his workplace.

          Besides being way over the top surveillance, the GPS device would only tell them where his car was. So what happens if someone drops him off at work, or if he cycles to work on occasion, or if he is using his wife's car sometimes?

      • No.

        The appropriate response is to counsel the employee about perceived work concerns and ask him/her to make changes to prevent termination. Then keep doing the passive monitoring (or using more precise monitoring that you got VOLUNTARY agreement from the subject to use) and see if things change. If performance remains low or the subject is still showing signs of malingering, terminate employment.

        Respect and communication is far more ideal that going behind and literally creeping on people. If they underp

        • The problem with that approach is that, contrary to the popular saying, perception is, in fact not reality.

          The worker who is already there when the boss comes in because he/she works 07:00-15:30 will get looked on more favourably than the one who comes in around 11:00 and works until 23:00 or midnight or later, even. Despite the fact that the latter is doing more work, or at least spending more time at work, he/she will be perceived as a slacker, simply because he comes in so late, even if the arrangement

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by increment1 (1722312)

      As alluded to in the article, they were looking into his timesheets and his assertion that he worked odd hours.

      It looks like the state thought he was lying about his hours, and so used the GPS tracker to catch him in a lie concerning hours worked. It seems a touch excessive, but government jobs likely require a high standard of proof in order to fire an employee.

    • by mclearn (86140)
      It doesn't sound like you read the article, but your questions are still just as valid. TFA states that they had not exhausted all non-GPS solutions to tracking him. But then it fails to go on the say why they felt they needed to track him in ANY capacity in the first place.

      ...but if I show up on time during the week and do my job

      The TFA does indicate the employee "filed improper time sheets" and eluded to the fact that a "...pattern of misconduct and the difficulty of constant in-person surveillance ju

      • by idontgno (624372) on Friday September 16, 2011 @05:52PM (#37424724) Journal

        TFA states that they had not exhausted all non-GPS solutions to tracking him.

        Even that formulation misses a critical point: The objective which would have been meaningful to their goal (proving timecard fraud) was not "track him"; the appropriate objective is "verify workplace attendance". The phrase in TFA (yeah, I know, no one reads that... just go with it for a second) "worked odd hours at his job" (emphasis mine) indicates that finding out where he was at any time should not have been the objective... only finding out when he was in the office. (He wasn't working from someplace else, since the presumption is "at his job"... at his place of employment.)

        So GPS tracking is solving the wrong problem. A webcam monitoring ingress and egress to his office, or computer system logs... a physical access control like a card entry system would have gone a long ways towards determining the real information they needed.

        GPS was the wrong solution because it was answering the wrong question. It's not justified.

        • by idontgno (624372)
          I think I just realized you made the same point as me, and probably better. Oh, well, it's late, it's Friday. Maybe some moderator will oblige by uprating you or downrating me as redundant, which would be OK by me.
    • by Rich0 (548339)

      Obviously they're not very well coordinated either. With all the plate-scanning technology and cameras floating around, I'm sure they could have tracked him without the GPS.

      Part of me is tempted to try to create an open-source database where anybody who wants to can just set up a camera and upload faces, license plates, locations, and timestamps to some central repository. I suspect that the people that you'd prefer not to have access to this sort of thing already have it. What would society look like if

  • not as far as they did. Or at least not in my totally non-legally binding opinion. While there are some jobs in which you are never truly off the clock, once you're on your own time and outside of the business environs you're privacy should be covered by that whole 4th amendment and other stuff. Unless of course as per terms of employment you give consent.
  • by MimeticLie (1866406) on Friday September 16, 2011 @05:09PM (#37424412)
    Tracking personal vehicles without a warrant? Why not? If it's good enough for one agency [wired.com] of the government, why not for all of them?
  • New York (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hatta (162192) on Friday September 16, 2011 @05:11PM (#37424424) Journal

    New York's court of appeals [acslaw.org] has already determined that GPS tracking by law enforcement is illegal without a warrant. Since the powers of cops are a superset of the powers of an individual, this case should be a slam dunk for the plaintiff.

    • by hey! (33014)

      ... Since the powers of cops are a superset of the powers of an individual ...

      That's not precisely true. Actually it's just not true at all. Not even close.

      The powers of police and of some private individual are overlapping sets, but that's not even close to relevant, because what's going on here is an "administrative search". There are rules governing such searches, but they're looser than rules in criminal matters. That's why the TSA (ho aren't cops) can frisk you at the security checkpoint of an airport without a warrant or probable cause.

      Other cases of administrative search inc

      • by Hatta (162192)

        Ah, yes. Administrative law. Nothing but an end run around the constitution. You can't just make up a new body of law and pretend the constitution doesn't apply to it. Either consent of the individual is required to affix something to his property or it is not. If it is, then you must get a warrant to do so. If it is not, then anyone may do so. Anything else is unconstitutional.

        • by amiga3D (567632)

          The government pretends the Constitution doesn't apply on a routing basis nowadays.

          • by Hatta (162192)

            Yes, I know. It's surprising how many people deny that fact. It's important to point that out on a regular basis to make it harder to deny. Counter the Big Lie with the Big Truth.

    • by BitterOak (537666)

      New York's court of appeals [acslaw.org] has already determined that GPS tracking by law enforcement is illegal without a warrant. Since the powers of cops are a superset of the powers of an individual, this case should be a slam dunk for the plaintiff.

      Unfortunately, federal courts have disagreed. In particular, the 7th Circuit Court of appeals ruled in United States vs. Garcia [uscourts.gov] (Case no. 06-2741), that police don't need a warrant to attach a GPS device to a suspects car.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 16, 2011 @05:12PM (#37424432)

    Ex-Cisco employee here. Anon for a reason. They planted a gps tracker in my laptop and pushed down gps tracking software to my cell phone (personal phone, but attached to their email servers). All reporting back to some database servers in Cisco's corporate datacenters.

    Found this, confronted them, and negotiated a significant settlement for not going public with the info. Don't care if they track me down now based on this posting, though, as they just laid off a ton of my great friends who remained. So, hopefully this will gain traction and other Cisco employees will look into this unethical (and illegal?) tracking of employees.

    And you don't even want to know what kind of monitoring stuff they snuck into their IP Phones... If the public ever figures that out, Cisco has a great cover story ready: there's so much legacy code from Selsius (the original manufacturer of the phone technology) that it was cleverly hidden and unnoticed through years of QA testing.

    • Found this, confronted them, and negotiated a significant settlement for not going public with the info. Don't care if they track me down now based on this posting, though, as they just laid off a ton of my great friends who remained..

      You don't care if they track you down and declare you're in breach of a legally binding contract and take you to court to get the settlement money back...?

      • by sjames (1099)

        Probably not, that would require making the incident a matter of public record and still wouldn't prove that the AC here is the same person and not just a good guesser.

      • Declaring him in breach of a contract means publicly announcing that they GPS-tracked their employees and confirm it on file.

        With this info public and confirmed, thousands of current and ex-employees will sue them for truckloads of money.

        Thousands of employees filing claims is several orders of magnitude more expensive than reclaiming the settlement money of one single contract. Adding to that, the reputation damage of Cisco is incredible - in the eyes of the general public, their customers and, most import

    • The first Selsius phone was released in November 1997 and the company was acquired by Cisco in November 1998. That's a bit short to create much legacy code. Plus I think lots of the current IP phones they sell actually came from Linksys...

    • I don't know if it was worth putting yourself at risk to let us know that Cisco is a bunch of scummy shitsacks, I mean, we already knew that...

  • Fan-tastic... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday September 16, 2011 @05:16PM (#37424476) Journal
    "Kate Nepveu, an assistant solicitor general, said the state realized the GPS tracking was intrusive, but Cunningham's pattern of misconduct and the difficulty of constant in-person surveillance justified the technique."

    Yup, we knew that we had no business doing it; but he was a Bad Guy and doing our jobs is Hard. Cry, cry, pity me... Is there any sort of procedural abuse that one couldn't justify with exactly that line? Virtually everything we call "due process" is inconvenient for the prosecution, and I've never heard of somebody going after someone that they wouldn't at least say was guilty of misconduct...
    • by Simulant (528590)

      What's truly fucked up here is that they felt that they couldn't fire him simply because of his "pattern of misconduct". They appear to have felt that they needed more proof or something.

      I'm not familiar with the New York State government but if it is anything like the federal government, it's nearly impossible to get fired, even with criminal misconduct. Our government will never be more efficient unless they fix this.

      I do not defend the GPS tracking but nor do I automatically assume that this guy should
      • Re:Fan-tastic... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Asic Eng (193332) on Friday September 16, 2011 @06:45PM (#37425138)

        What's truly fucked up here is that they felt that they couldn't fire him simply because of his "pattern of misconduct". They appear to have felt that they needed more proof or something.

        I interpret that to mean "there wasn't actually a pattern of misconduct, we went on a fishing expedition hoping to find one".

      • by geekoid (135745)

        pattern of misconduct does not mean misconduct. It means there was something(s) observed that might have been misconduct.

        They went overboard, and they didn't need to do so.

        Our government is far more efficient then the media would have you believe.

        In fact, it does a great many things far better then any one else in the world.
        Look at budget reports, TCO, and audit reports.

        Yes, something get out of hand. SOmetime for good reasonl sometime not, but theya re in the minority.

        Just so you know, in a formet life I w

        • by tompaulco (629533)
          You forgot to include:

          Posted from my iPhone.
        • In one case, I found a 15 Million dollar year expenditure that had been going on for 10 years,and no one knew where the money went. At it s very well known company. Something everyone who wheres shoes has heard of.

          Hey, sometimes you have to pay assassins as part of a marketing campaign, and then you have to pay mercenary organizations to help cover it up...it all adds up, and they don't take unicorn farts.

  • No warrant, no evidence... Oh, wait...
  • Overtime! (Score:5, Funny)

    by peacefinder (469349) <alan@dewitt.gmail@com> on Friday September 16, 2011 @05:50PM (#37424704) Journal

    If his employer was tracking him, it must have been for work purposes, right? So since he was on the clock, he should at least be paid his contracted rate for all the time he was tracked.

    • by amiga3D (567632)

      You may be saying this to be amusing but I'd be willing to bet he could find a lawyer to sue the state for backpay.

      • True, but "a willing lawyer" isn't a tough standard to meet. :-)

        Still - in all seriousness - it's hard to imagine a jury who wouldn't be on his side.

  • Even if a company or government agency is putting trackers on company vehicles, I think the employees using them should be made aware they're being tracked.

    But to put a tracker on someone's private vehicle without notifying them? Even the FBI isn't allowed to do that!

  • There should be criminal charges here. Tracking a vehicle 24/7 is stalking. If I did this to someone's vehicle you can bet they'd throw me in jail. Just because he was an employee doesn't make it legal.

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      It's stalkerish, but it's not stalking. Stalking requires a physical presence (and in most states, a threat or threatening demeanor) that this case lacks.
  • Fear based management of people leading to more and more invasive surveillance is a classic fundamental flaw I think.

  • My (non-government) employer used to track my cell phone, using VZW's Field Force Manager system. It wasn't a completely unreasonable request since I was doing field work for them, and I was just as able to use it to show that I was working when/where I said I was as they were to do the opposite.

    It worked, but it was a pain in the ass. The battery in the phone would go from a full charge to nothing in less than an hour in areas of poor or zero signal, and it was impossible to actually turn the software of

  • There's no issue whatsoever. They clearly violated his rights.

  • Doesn't matter who you work for, if you are on the clock, you are on their time.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      I guess you missed the ending of the blurb which says 24/7, he wasn't on clock 24/7..

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