New Technologies in Criminal Investigation: Using GPS to go where police officers cannot go
The computer age has brought on a whole new set of criminals: Hackers, virus perpetrators, business secret pilferers, identity thieves and more. The computer age has also changed the way in which traditional crimes are perpetrated too. As we saw in the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, the Al Queda henchmen stayed in contact with their shadowy bosses over email, and were well aware of planes' schedules and fuel capacities significantly ahead of time via usage of the wide variety of information sources on the Internet.
True, technology has changed the way we live our lives in many positive ways, but it has also enabled criminals to attack their work from entirely different and more potent angles. Fortunately, similar technological advances are also available to the criminal investigation elements of our society as well.
One such advance is the global positioning system. Known as GPS, this paper will explore how the technology is revolutionizing the way criminal investigators do business.
Keeping track of paroled criminals
The primary use of using GPS in criminal investigation work is to keep track of paroled criminals. Often, parole officers and other criminal investigators will use GPS systems in congruence with many other advances in technology, including voice recognition systems and systems designed to work with existing radio / cellular networks.
Criminal investigation experts feel that the GPS systems are the most effective. Not only can they inform authorities when parolees or criminals are not where they should be, but they can actually proactively inform the operators where the person is. These systems have been used by law enforcement agencies for some years and are starting to be planned for monitoring the elderly, mentally challenged, and children. The opponents of monitoring individuals worry about the methods used to fairly decide who will be tagged for monitoring, and the itinerant privacy issues (discussed below). The opponents claim the slippery slope argument: They predict that once it starts it will not stop until everyone is tagged and monitored using a GPS system.
In this age of the Patriot Act, GPS technologies -- and the resulting constitutional conflicts -- are even more at the forefront. How do we ensure that the devices are used only as they are supposed to be used? The argument harks back to the days of mafia-tracking using wire-taps. The police forces abused the wire tap technology to tap basically whomever they wanted to in several cases. Even recently, in a non-GPS issue, Atlantic City casino workers used security cameras not to watch potential cheaters or thieves, but to catch women in compromising situations.
The power of GPS in criminal investigations truly scares its opponents, the constitutional defenders. Our privacies are paramount in the Constitution, and if criminal investigators are to be able to use GPS technologies successfully, they must prove a) that they can be trusted with the technology, and b) that it does not significantly infringe on either the criminal's constitutional rights, or society's at large.
This is particularly true in the case of paroled criminals who are being tracked via GPS. Of course, they are required to stay within a certain geographic vicinity, but as we mentioned above, GPS systems inform operators not only when these criminals exceed their legal territory, but where exactly they are at all times. In other words, the GPS system delivers too much information. If indeed the systems are to pass constitutional muster, they must have "governors" of the sort that appear on Porsche automobiles: Porsches are fully capable of going more than 150 miles per hour, but several models have artificial governors on their speed to cap the automobiles at a lower pace. GPS systems provide too much information, and if criminal investigators are to use them, especially to track parolees, one possible solution is to actually dumb down the capabilities of the systems to only inform the operators when the parolees leave their assigned districts.
With such safeguards, parolees do not lose their constitutional rights to travel at will and with their constitutional privacies intact within the legal area; they are only sequestered to that area by the GPS.
Arguments in support of more prevalent GPS use, especially on paroles
Now that we have discussed some of the constitutional trouble-spots of GPS usage and the actual process of GPS investigation, why all the fuss? In other words,…