GPS Helps Cities Catch Goof-Offs

This article by Frank Etelmen in today’s Washington Post describes how many government agencies are adding GPS receivers to their vehicles to see where employees are going. In some cases workers have been fired for going shopping or running errands on the job. Some have had to reimburse their employers for unauthorized use. Orders for tracking systems have been growing rapidly.

Many workers have complained that this is too much of a Big Brother intrusion into their work. Some unions have negotiated non-firing for a first offense clauses in their contracts.

Obviously, this monitoring can be taken too far. But administrators say that they have a duty to make sure public resources are used for public purposes. Also, the tracking helps them plan better routes for snow-plowing, trash removal, school buses, and other services. It helps save fuel and money.

From a technical point of view, remember in class I said that GPS was a passive system, in that the US government doesn’t know how many people or who is using GPS at any time. However, a GPS-equipped vehicle can record and store data as it is driven around. This data can be downloaded periodically or broadcast live back to a central office. These services are separate from the GPS. According to the article, there are many companies offering the services for an initial cost and a monthly maintenance fee. It will be interesting to see if management can continue to use these systems or if workers will find a way to revolt.

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