Employee Monitoring with GPS
David Meyers and David Patience
Technology used to track employees has not only transformed
the workplace environment, but has also raised many privacy and legal
issues. The tracking technology is centered on the Global Positioning
System (GPS), which is able to relay information and images in real-
time concerning the activities of employees. Another common method
used to track employees is infrared badges that are linked to the GPS.
The three most commonly used means of tracking employee are
through vehicles, cell phones, and badges. The capabilities of this
technology create major privacy issues as employers can now be
informed of the daily activities of employees in and out of the
workplace. Advancements in technology and industry competition
have driven down the price of tracking devices, making tracking
employees more prevalent than ever before. In fact, the GPS industry
has an estimated annual growth rate of 31% (Federal Communication
Commission). In 2000, GPS had about 1.5 million active units online,
which is estimated to grow to 6.5 million online active users by 2010.
The net sales of the GPS industry in 2002 were $7 billion and by 2010,
the industry as a whole is estimated to be worth around $50 billion.
The massive growth of employee tracking has created a
continual struggle between employees and their employers. Many
Fourth Amendment rights are in jeopardy due to new and improved GPS technology capabilities (Spiers). The Fourth Amendment of the
Unites States of American states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses,
papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and
seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but
upon probably cause…
GPS tracking capabilities are constantly questioned in courts as
high as the United States Supreme Court. The invasive nature of this
technology can create an uncomfortable atmosphere between employers
and employees. Incidents have occurred in which an employee was
terminated for an action that he/she committed without knowing he/she
was being tracked. The following chapter will explain the technology
behind GPS tracking and how the system is able to track individuals. It
will also include the major means of how employers track employees,
court litigation on the invasiveness of the GPS system, and the ethical
issues this technology has created.
Evolution of Global Positioning Systems
The first Global Positioning Systems (GPS) satellite was
launched in 1978 by the Department of Defense (DOD). During the next
16 years, the government launched 23 more satellites which completed
what is now known as the NavStar Constellation. This extensive
network currently has over 27 satellites and plays a key role in both
military and civil navigation (Kightlinger).
There have been several advancements throughout the lifetime
of this equipment. Two of these changes include accuracy and
reliability. Modern GPS systems are able to measure the location of the
receiver within several feet and can even obtain signal in densely
populated areas. In the early days of GPS, measurements were less
accurate than a few feet and signal strength was often a problem. This
made it harder to get the exact location. Now, GPS triangulation is
more precise and accurate than ever before.
Other aspects of the industry that have changed include price,
size, and popularity. The price of GPS has dropped significantly since
the technology was first introduced. Manufactures have also been able
to reduce the size of the receivers so the system can be used discretely.
One of the biggest changes we have seen in this industry is an increase
in consumer popularity. Most cars on the road today are equipped with
some type of GPS technology.
When GPS was in the early stages of its development, its main
purpose was for emergency situations and government defense. Now,
there are many other uses for GPS, including personal and company
use. For example, companies like OnStar and LoJack have been in the
GPS business and have grown with the technology. OnStar has more
than 80,000 cars that subscribe to their service. Although the
development of this technology has brought about many positive
aspects, people are the negative side due to privacy invasion and other
ethical issues dealing with tracking.
Technology Behind Global Positioning Systems
Global Positioning Systems are quite advanced and there are
several components needed in order to accurately report one’s position.
A GPS works 24 hours a day, in any weather, worldwide. There are
three main components of GPS:
1. Constellation of Satellites
First there needs to be a constellation of satellites. The U.S. NavStar
Constellation consists of 27 satellites each of which circles the earth
twice daily. These satellites are solar powered and constantly transmit
data about their location back to earth, were the data is used in real-time
or stored in databases to be used at a later date. The satellites orbit
Earth almost 12,000 miles above us and travel at speeds of around 7,000
miles per hour. These incredibly dense satellites weigh 2,000 pounds
each and are a massive 17 feet across. Each satellite is built to last
around 10 years and the U.S. government replaces them as they wear
2. Control Segment
The second component needed is a control segment that maintains GPS
through a system of ground monitoring stations and satellite upload
facilities. The satellite transmits signals to these upload facilities which
then travel on frequencies in the microwave part of the light spectrum.
There are three different kinds of data sent from the satellite to the
ground stations. The first type is a pseudorandom code. This is a code
that identifies which satellite sent the signal. The next type of data is
ephemeris data; this is constantly transmitted by each satellite in the
constellation and contains important information about the satellites
condition as well as the current date and time. Lastly, the almanac data
tells the receiver where the satellite should be at any given time. Each
satellite transmits almanac data showing orbital information for that
satellite as well as other satellites in the system.
3. User Receivers
The last part of a GPS is the user receiver. This is the unit that
is purchased by the user. GPS is free of charge, if an individual has a
GPS transmitter and all receivers run of the same constellation. The use
of triangulation allows the receiver to calculate the user’s exact location.
A receiver must be locked on to three satellites to produce a 2D position
and four satellites for a 3D position. The 2D position consists of only
latitude and longitude while the 3D position adds elevation. After the
position is found, speed and bearing may also be calculated. Although
the technology is very similar, civil and military GPS still have
differences. The military GPS is much more detailed and the zoom and
location capabilities are more accurate than civil GPS (Singerman).
The original idea of placing GPS units in automobiles was for
aiding the driver in navigation. The driver is able to have real-time
navigation instructions and traffic updates. Systems such as OnStar and
LoJack are examples of GPS that can be used in automobiles for reasons
other than navigation. These systems were originally set up to aid in
the locating of a stolen car and theft prevention, but they have evolved
into multi-tasking systems than can run diagnostics checks, unlock car
doors, and even make dinner reservations at your favorite restaurant.
The original intentions of using GPS were to aid the driver and make
the car ride more enjoyable, by making navigation effortless.
Then employers began to use the GPS to track the actual
vehicle itself, and advancements in GPS technology have enabled
employers to track a lot more than just vehicle location. Fleet tracking
has become a standard in the delivery, cab, and car rental industries.
This technology is called Automatic Vehicle Locations (AVL) and is a
combination of GPS and computer tracking monitoring systems. The
employer is able to watch the vehicle travel on a digital map of the
surrounding area or a real-time image of the vehicle.
Originally this technology allowed an employer to see the
location of a vehicle on a delayed signal. Currently, GPS allows for real-
time information including location, direction, speed, altitude, and
engine diagnostics of the vehicle. Automobiles with GPS devices
transmit continual signals to orbiting satellites so that the various types
of information can be seen by an employer. These systems have
revolutionized employer capabilities of tracking vehicles.
A 2003 survey by Lawn & Landscape magazine found 53% of the
companies surveyed either use GPS to track all of their vehicles, some of
their vehicles, or were considering using GPS in the future. In the
delivery, cab, and car rental industries, the percentage of companies
using GPS for tracking was 93%. This is an extremely high percentage
and illustrates how widely this technology is used. Companies such as
Federal Express and 303 Taxi and Messenger Service have all employees
sign a disclaimer than states all drivers will be monitored 24 hours a
day, seven days a week and employees will be fired for improper use of
vehicles. Other companies, such as Stericycle Medical Disposal, do not
inform truck drivers of their monitoring policies even though the
company does monitor trucks with GPS tracking technology. The
current laws of vehicle tracking varies from state to state in wording,
but the unanimous consensus is that the only person legally allowed to
place a GPS transmitter, with the intent to track that vehicle, is the
registered owner of that vehicle, besides law enforcement officers.
GPS tracking allows a company to see vehicles, which are
significant assets to the firm, at all times. Doug Conway, founder of
Boulder Super Shuttle, began tracking his trucks in 2003 and states that
it has created greater productivity for the firm. “Now that drivers know
we are watching them at all times, there is less room for unapproved
use of our shuttles by employees,” Mr. Conway stated. This belief is
widely accepted by most managers in similar industries in the United States. Most managers are willing to forfeit their employees’ privacy
for the greater good of the firm.
GPS tracking technology is not limited to the tracking of
corporate users, as law enforcement agencies now use the technology to
track their police force. For example, in Clinton, New Jersey, GPS
tracking devices were placed in the front grill of squad cars in 2001.
This later resulted in the suspension of officers, as many cars were
found loitering around diners and hanging out in parking lots for
excessive time periods. The reason for this was because the data
transferred in the GPS logbook stated they were on patrol at those
locations. This is not a standalone incident, as it is estimated that over
1,200 employees were terminated based on the tracking of vehicles by
GPS in the U.S. alone.
Cell Phone Tracking
The popularity of employing tracking through cell phones has
also increased with advancements in technology and is now the most
common form of employee tracking. In 1999, the U.S. Congress passed
the E911 act, which is a law requiring all cell phones manufactured after
2005 to use GPS. This will allow emergency crews to respond faster to
911 calls. Emergency crews are not the only people using GPS-equipped
phones, as there is no current law regarding employers using this
technology to track their employees. The only flaw with cell phone
tracking is that the phone must be turned on for the GPS system to
work. Until 2004, only the U.S. government was tracking individuals by
their cell phones. Now, private tracking capabilities are made possible
by the use of SIM Cards. This technology allows employers to keep an
electronic leash on employees.
Cell phones can be tracked in two different ways: The first is
triangulation, which can be done on any cell phone but the process is
slow. The second and most widely used is through GPS tracking of the
SIM card that is in the cell phone. Since the wireless communications
industry has moved to using SIM cards in cell phones, almost all
modern cell phones can be tracked using GPS technology. Employee
tracking through cell phones has become very prevalent for employers
in and out of the workplace and especially during lunch breaks.
Since the E911 Act of 1999 all cell phones purchased in the
United States can be domestically tracked on any wireless network. The
most widely tracked networks in 2006 were AT&T, Verizon Wireless,
and Nextel Communications, with each network averaging more than
2,500 cell phones tracked daily through the use of GPS. In 2004, Nextel
Communications began selling Mobile Locator, giving bosses an easy
way to track an employee with cell phones that had a SIM card inside of
the phone. This was the first civilian tracking system that was
introduced. It allowed anyone using the Nextel network to be tracked
with GPS effortlessly and Nextel more than doubled their corporate
customer base in 2005. Since 2004, most wireless networks sell similar
GPS location products and all networks can be tracked by employers.
GPS cell phone tracking has become so widely used, mostly because of
employee tracking, that an entire industry has evolved. Companies
such as TruePosition and Xora have made it their sole line of business to
tracking individuals through cell phones. They are extremely profitable and are used by major corporations, which include U.S. Foodservices
and McKinsey Consulting Firm.
The demand for GPS cell phone tracking technology is
extremely high and Nextel claims to have more than 1,000 corporate
customers that continually track their employees. An example of an
inexpensive tracking system is GPS TimeTrack. This is a Java based
program widely used by corporations in the US. The user simply puts a
cell phone number into the input box and the software will locate the
position of the cell phone on a map. The program then periodically
requests the latitude and longitude of that cell phone number, giving an
employer an employee exact location. This simply technology is
becoming widely used by corporations and the GPS cell phone tracking
industry is at an all time high in 2007, bringing in $2.9 billion.
One example of the application of this technology took place in
Chicago during 2005. More than 500 city employees were issued cell
phones that could be tracked by GPS, without telling the employees the
phones had this capability. The city said that the phones were issued as
a tool to increase employee productivity. Several garbage and traffic
enforcement officers were fired because of their location during
working hours. Several court cases derived from this incident, and now
all city employees carry these phones after several unions won
concessions for the episode. Now, all city employees in Chicago are
notified and have to sign a contract that they can be tracked by the city
during working hours.
Infrared Badge Tracking
Infrared Tracking does not use GPS. Instead, it uses light from
a scanner or censor to record and employee’s location. This allows an
employer to see the location or door of the building an employee was in
during the day, through the infrared badge. This is very cutting edge
technology, and is more expensive than cell phone or vehicle tracking.
These tags of badges are about the size of a credit card and are normally
attached to an employee’s identification card. The badge includes
sensors that are encircled by electromagnetic fields. This tracking
device is mainly used in hospitals. The system enables employers to see
in real-time where each doctor and nurse is within the hospital. This
practice was first put in use at New York Memorial Hospital in 1998,
due to a decline in patient satisfaction. Currently there are 52 hospitals
in the US that use this location system to track hospital employees.
Complaints concerning invasion of privacy are relatively low
for this form of tracking technology. This is because most people agree
that this technology is practical in a hospital. The nurses’ union of
Brooklyn filed a grievance against the use of infrared badges, but lost in
arbitration as the court concluded that the technology’s benefits greatly
outnumbered its complaints. Most hospital union employees that are
willing to wear the badge know that “The parties agree that data
acquired by and preserved with the [tracking] system shall not be the
sole source of information used to impose discipline or evaluate any
nurse.” This was the agreed solution of an incident that involved union
members of the Alaska Nurses Association.
A survey of 100 CU Boulder students was administered, and
the results were compiled. The short survey included the following
Have you ever heard of employee GPS tracking?
Do you know that you can be tracked by anyone through your cell
Do you believe this is an invasive practice?
Would you accept a job that used this technology to track you
during the workday?
The results indicated that 54 respondents had heard of the
technology. 24 respondents knew that they could be tracked through
their cell phone. 87 thought the technology was invasive, and 41
respondents said they would accept a job that used this technology.
The results are clear that this technology is relatively new and
unheard of throughout the Boulder, Colorado community. The most
staggering result was that 86% of respondents thought the technology
to be invasive. This is clearly a signal that the overall belief of this
technology is invasive to individuals and is becoming increasingly
Ethics Relating to Employee Tracking
Global Positioning Systems are relatively new in the corporate
world. Today employers in almost every industry can track and
monitor their employees using several different methods. Since this is
so new for many people, there are many ethical issues associated with
Many employees feel that being monitored by GPS by their
employer is an invasion of their privacy and should not be allowed.
However, some employers are not using this technology strictly for
watching their employees. They use this technology to track and
monitor their assets as well. GPS can prevent assets from being lost or
stolen and can also collect data that will help determine efficiency for
the company. By law, the owner of a vehicle has the right to track it
without telling anyone. This brings up a major ethical issue
surrounding employee monitoring. Is it ethical for employees to track
their employees without their consent? Many employees believe if they
are being monitored, they should at least be notified by the employer,
especially when they are driving the tracked vehicle or talking on the
followed cell phone.
Employees have gone on strike and used collective bargaining
tactics to avoid the infringement of their privacy. Employers need to be
careful how they implement GPS systems. If done the wrong way,
employers can lose their employees trust and dedication. Another
ethical issue is employee tracking during break, lunch or off-hours.
Should employers be allowed to track employees when they are not
working? Many employees have been fired because they violated
company policy during lunch with company property. This is a very
difficult problem because it would be difficult to turn off the GPS while each and every employee is out to lunch. Also, if you witness bad
behavior off the clock, can you ignore something that you know is
wrong? Should a truck driver be fired for stopping at the post office to
mail a letter during work? Should an employee be fired for driving to
the post office in the company vehicle during lunch break? There are no
right or wrong answers to these questions. Since GPS employee
tracking is so new, many people do not know exactly what to think or
how to feel about some of the ethical dilemmas.
Legislation and Court Cases
There are no clear laws regarding the use of GPS tracking for
employees, but there have been several court cases relating to similar
issues on privacy. The reason for the lack of legislation is because there
are a lot of gray areas within the scope of this topic. Workplace privacy
cases are usually mitigated by common law, state law, and the Fourth
Amendment. Ideally, the courts try to find a balance by looking at the
employers needs while keeping the employee’s legitimate expectation
for privacy in mind.
Although there have not been many cases involving GPS
employer tracking, there have been cases related to employee privacy.
There have also been court cases in which the police violated privacy
rights by using GPS to track a vehicle without a proper search warrant.
Over the next several years, much more legislation will likely dictate
what is right and wrong regarding the use of GPS with employee and
There have been several positive and negative aspects of
employee tracking with the use of GPS and infrared technology. There
is a lot of uncertainty with this industry as to how far they will take it in
the future. Privacy infringement has been one of the biggest problems
with America’s new asset management systems. Whether it is GPS
tracking by phone, in vehicles, or through the use of infrared ID badges,
employers are watching employees’ moves now, more than ever. Since
this industry has developed so fast, there is very little legislation
protecting the rights of employees. We will see unions fighting for
more employee privacy regarding tracking issues in the future. Many
companies are forced to pay hefty legal fees due to the fact the ethics of
tracking employees are questionable. The biggest issue seems to be
when employers are terminated and are unaware employers were
tracking them. Some companies are starting to realize the problems
relating to these privacy issues and require employees to sign consent
forms for the GPS and infrared tracking. Companies need to be more
careful in America with regards to how they track their assets and
employees. The under lying question for managers needs to be whether
or not it is worth it to sacrifice their employees’ trust for greater
productivity in the firm.
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