Ethical Issues in GPS Tracking

By Michael E Carpenter

Who else knows exactly where you are right now?
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GPS stands for Global Positioning System, and is a series of satellites orbiting around the Earth that provide real-time information on a location of a GPS receiver. A GPS that only receives direction information does not raise ethical questions. It is the systems that also relay the location information to a third party that raises ethical issues.


GPS systems that transmit the location of individuals infringe on an individual's right to privacy. These systems are providing information about the whereabouts of an individual without their consent. All drivers should feel safe in their vehicle without concerns that their current whereabouts are being transmitted to a third party that can choose to do with the information as its pleases. This information could be sold to companies or used by law-enforcement officials to verify an individual's location at a certain time.


Many GPS systems are a way to help track individuals who need to be monitored. For example, subjects on home arrest wear ankle devices that have GPS to make law enforcement aware if the subject leaves. Alzheimer's patients' GPS are used to make sure these patients do not wander off. Employers add GPS systems to taxis, buses and company cars to track the vehicle whereabouts but provide a supervisor on board that tracks every movement the vehicle makes.


The data created by GPS can be stored on a computer. Even the best computer security systems can be compromised. This can lead to personal data becoming available to criminals. The information provided by the GPS can tell criminals your schedules or areas that you like to frequent. Certain GPS work with vehicles and complete functions on the car. For example, if a hacker were to access the GPS in a vehicle, he would be able to shut the engine off at any time.

Data Ownership

The satellites used for GPS were created by the government to track military personnel. These same satellites are used to convey GPS information to drivers and third parties. The question arises as to who actually owns the data produced through the system. Does the individual owning the GPS unit own the information? Or the government that created the satellite, or the third party who is gathering the data? If the government owns the information, it opens the door to the government being able to track your movements without consent and possibly without a warrant or reason.