Cops outraged about GPS tracking plans in Boston

Boston Police Department bosses want to install GPS monitoring devices in every patrol car, to enable dispatch to more efficiently process 911 calls. But police officers and their union are outraged, saying that the ubiquitous tracking is too invasive of their personal privacy. Tracking the location of officers as they go about their days would reveal incredibly detailed information about their lives, the officers say.

We couldn’t agree more. Where you go says a lot about who you are. That’s why we want to ensure that Massachusetts residents are protected from warrantless location tracking, whether by GPS device, cell phone, or automatic license plate reader.

The Boston Globe reports:

"No one likes it. Who wants to be followed all over the place?” said one officer who spoke anonymously because department rules forbid police from speaking to the media without authorization. “If I take my cruiser and I meet [reluctant witnesses] to talk, eventually they can follow me and say why were you in a back dark street for 45 minutes? It’s going to open up a can of worms that can’t be closed."

Davis said that officers will not be disciplined if they can reasonably explain their whereabouts.

The department cannot discipline officers based on any information collected by the GPS devices in the first six months following their installation.

And the department must alert an officer if anyone from the public requests his or her GPS records.

“Our interest was the scrutiny,” said Joseph Sandulli, a lawyer for the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association. “This thing keeps a permanent record of where an officer is all day. If he stops to go to the bathroom, that stop appears on the screen. If he goes a mile over the speed limit, someone can question that. It’s quite an intrusion on people’s lives.”

Concerned officers also raised the specter of advanced hackers breaking into the systems and tracking police officers as they move about the city, potentially enabling them to evade police.

“How long is it going to be before some criminal mastermind . . . gets some kids at MIT to figure out how to break into the GPS system?” one unnamed police officer wondered in an interview with the Globe. “Then they know where the cops are and can go rob banks.”

Like the GPS devices BPD brass wants installed in cruisers, centrally managed license plate reader databases, which contain the location histories of perfectly innocent people, could be compromised by criminal hackers or even foreign governments. That’s why the best defense against exposure or abuse of this invasive information is not to build massive data stores of it in the first place.

While on-duty tracking of public employees raises different questions than does the warrantless tracking of innocent civilians, concerned officers at the Boston Police Department are exactly right when they warn about the sensitivity of this information. As these anonymous officers and their union official argue, tracking someone’s location as they go about their day-to-day life is incredibly invasive.

That's why we hope police officers will join us in demanding that the state legislature pass forward-looking privacy protections to ensure that if the government wants to track a private citizen — by license plate reader, GPS device, or cell phone — it needs to first get a warrant.

Cross-posted from the ACLU of Massachusetts PrivacySOS blog.

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- I believe trucks have such devices - It the bosses right to know were the car or truck is - Same with cop cars - I think visor cams and GPS should be on every cop -


Put them on their aircraft or rotor craft so a FOIA request can be made, to see what there exact flight path was and what they were doing. The least tracked and documented is law enforcement air vehicles and only the FAA control tower knows exactly where a law enforcement air vehicles are at any one time, by way of radar plots, inflight radio communication, transponder squak code identifier. Now with drones, do you get my drift!
Elkins v FAA, 8:12CV2009 US District Court Tampa


The outrage is hilarious. The citizenry should be ok with being surveilled all of the time, but when the cops have it turned on them they don't like it... Boo Hoo


Guess no more sitting at a friends house watching the Patriots game when you should be working! They track my plate, phone, GPS with no warrant because I report their corruption. What goes around comes around.


My cop ex husband and his friends have been doing this to me for years (phone, GPS, currently plate) to harass me. I guess the police won't be able to sit at their friends house watching Patriots games anymore during their shifts. What goes around comes around.


Forcing cops to be more responsible and accountable for their actions while they work to protect citizens sounds like a pretty good idea to me. I can understand feeling uncomfortable about being constantly tracked and knowing that data will be stored for a long term, but police have a lot of power that comes with their job and GPS tracking would seem like an effective way to check this power with minimal invasion of privacy.


Cops think they are above the law and dont like to be Tracked, videoed,or in any way documented. What are they trying to Hide( If I take my cruiser and I pull over and take a nap), eventually they can follow me and say why were you in a back dark street for 45 minutes? I think that is more of a concern of the corrupt police..

Anonymously out...

The Las Vegas Graffiti patrol trucks have GPS tracking their vehicles 24/7 so the dispatchers can better locate workers nearest to areas that have been tagged. Cops should have GPS tracking too; they're at work. They above any other public servant should have GPS tracking. Many people using company cars nowadays have some sort of tracking device. even insurance companies are tracking us. Maybe this will make sure that the cops aren't participating in illegal activity themselves or wasting the taxpayers dollar at some donut shop, meeting for lunch dates, while leaving their engines running, or using the cop car to do their grocery shopping. I urge everyone to VOTE YES to have this as a national, state and local (public servant) requirement ON ALL VEHICLES.


All police officers should be microchipped, RFIDactive. They should all have Google glass type devices installed in their helmets and headgear. For tactical reasons as well as monitoring purposes. This is part of the social contract of being permitted lethal force.


police should have active RFID implants. they should have Google glass type interfaces in their head gear helmets and hats. this is part of the social contract of being allowed Lethal force.


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