GPS tracking: Ethical or not?

Introduction

In the modern society, GPS tracking is becoming more and more common. It can be found in many areas of our lives, such as cell phones and cars. GPS is a powerful tool. U.S. Appeals Court Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote:

“A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.”

The ethical issues of using GPS always revolve around the invasion of privacy. However, the definition of privacy is often vague. Currently, no laws are violated for the use of GPS, leading to the rise of numerous ethical issues regarding GPS tracking. In this essay, we are going to discuss why the use of GPS technology causes deep controversies.

 

Uses of GPS

A Global Positioning System(GPS) has many different functions, such as tracking criminals and parolees, watching spouse who may be cheating, tracking children and teens, employers watching over employees, spying strangers etc.

Tracking criminals and parolees

In the United States, GPS devices such as Trackstick, are secretly installed on the criminals’ cars without their consent. People believe that this can help to prevent crimes as criminals will not be able to make any movement, since they are under the police watch. However, there comes the question of whether this theory really works. This is a quote from an article of CNN that questions this theory:

Experts say GPS can create a false sense of security [when used to track criminals] because its capabilities are overestimated. Jill Levenson, an associate professor of human sciences at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, said many people believe it is “some magic bullet or panacea that prevents crimes.”

Tracking spouse

All marriage has an unspoken rule: You should be faithful to your spouse. Husband and wife should treat each other with respect. You will not be able to know if the other party has cheated on you as they will not admit it in your face. The use of GPS can help one to collect evidence and proof that the other party is a cheater.

Tracking children

Children are at an age where they are vulnerable to dangers. Tracking them with GPS can help to prevent them from getting abducted by strangers, or help to spot their location when they lose their way. Some day care centers in Sweden use GPS to keep track of the children on events such as outings.

Tracking teens

Teens like to keep secrets from their parents. This forces parents to install GPS on them as they are worried about their safety. However, teens are difficult to control. Once they spot the tracking device, they are able to find millions of way to undo them due to the vast amount of information on the Internet. GPS is rendered ineffective when it comes to teens.

Tracking employees

No doubt, GPS is an efficient tool that helps employers save tons of money by watching over the employees’ movement. One example of GPSs used by business is the package delivery service. GPS helps to check whether a particular employee travelled to other locations during package delivery. Business are able to save time and fuel and they can find the shortest route that helps to increase efficiency.

Tracking strangers

Tracking strangers can lead to an extreme action known as stalking. Stalking others is easy for someone who is tech savvy as they can hack into GPS-enabled cell phone. This enables them to track someone 24 hours per day. This is frightening as god knows what the stalker is planning as they know our every movement, even behind closed doors.

 

Utilitarianism

Imagine someone spying on you 24 hours a day using GPS. Every single movement you made will be known by someone close to you or worse, some stranger you’ve never even seen before. GPS tracking infringes our basic freedom as human beings. You live in fear as you don’t know what the person watching you is plotting. In a real case example, a man in Ontario found a GPS tracking device under his car. He mentioned that he and his wife couldn’t sleep well at night and they lost sleep at night crying about it. This invasion of privacy can even lead to mental breakdown if it continues for a long time.

The people using GPS devices to track others may gain a moment of pleasure and relieve as they are able to know other people’s movements. If the person they are watching is a close one, once they find out, their relationship will not return back to the way it used to be. For parents watching their teenage children, their parent-child relationship will be torn apart. For wife watching husband, there will be red flags in their marriage. Will they be happy by that time?

Kantian Theory

People use GPS with a simple motive: To know what someone is up to. It is not always bad to watch someone, it depends on who is other party is. If your daughter is being kidnapped by someone, you can use GPS to track her location, saving her in time. Many people argued whether police watching criminals is necessary as it is not always useful. Example: A sex offender equipped with GPS device raped and murdered a thirteen year old girl. I think installing GPS on criminals can minimise the harm that they will cause to society. The criminals know that they are being watched by police, thus they will be aware of their own actions. However, can this totally eliminate crime? If one day, the police decided to stop watching them, it is safe for us to say, they are no longer a potential harm?

Conclusion

GPS tracking is a double edge sword. It can be a valuable asset when it is used to maximise the general welfare of the society. However, many people choose to use it for their own selfish means. In my opinion, we can use GPS tracking, but only for emergency cases.

~Hui Shan

 

References

1. http://joem.hubpages.com/hub/Ethical-Concerns-With-Using-GPS-To-Track-Teens

2. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/11/gps-tracker-times-two/

3. http://www.brighthub.com/electronics/gps/articles/47117.aspx

4. http://www.brighthub.com/electronics/gps/articles/43385.aspx?cid=parsely_rec

5. https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/loui/www/location.pdf

6. http://www.papsyblog.org/2011/09/day-care-centers-using-gps-to-track.htm

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