GPS technology raises concern on job - East Valley Tribune: Business

GPS technology raises concern on job

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Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2005 5:49 pm | Updated: 7:21 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

NEW YORK - While they're out chasing the news, employees at a local television station are wondering if anybody is tailing them.

The news trucks at WABC-TV were recently equipped with Global Positioning System transmitters, raising concerns among the station's union workers about privacy. It's a small but growing workplace topic as companies increasingly embrace the GPS technology already in use to track everything from wayward teens to sex offenders.

"We're concerned about the possible misuse of the information that these systems can supply," said Gene Maxwell, head of Local 16 of the National Association of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians. "In particular, we wanted to make sure that it really wasn't going to be used as a disciplinary tool."

The station, which had no comment about the move, assured the union the GPS system was intended only to improve efficiency and worker safety, Maxwell said.

The union wants a training session so all employees understand the system's capabilities, which allow the instantaneous tracking of all equipped vehicles - exactly where they are, and exactly how long they are there.

The New York Civil Liberties Union doesn't get involved in a private company's use of GPS, but it did take issue with a proposal by the city Taxi and Limousine Commission to fit cabs with the system.

"Once the government starts tracking people's whereabouts, it starts raising concerns," said Chris Dunn, an attorney with the rights' group.

Taxi drivers felt the same way. Last month, they demonstrated outside the taxi commission offices.

Maxwell, the television union head, said he was aware of only two other stations nationwide with GPS technology in their news trucks - one in Los Angeles, the other in Houston.

In other industries, however, GPS is increasingly appearing in delivery vehicles, construction machinery and tractor-trailers.

The technology can help companies improve productivity and customer service. UPS Inc., for instance, is giving truck drivers GPS-equipped hand-hand computers to alert them when they're at the wrong address or help them identify an unfamiliar location.

But it can also be used to keep tabs on employees. Automated Waste Disposal Inc. caught one worker speeding, while Metropolitan Lumber & Hardware in New York found a delivery driver goofing off.

GPS isn't limited to vehicles, either. Newer cell phones are GPS-enabled.

"There has been a creeping spread of location technology in the workplace," said Chris Hoofnagle, a senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

But he warned the systems could create more problems than plusses for businesses.

"I think companies may find the data used against them in lawsuits," Hoofnagle said. "Plaintiffs' attorneys might be able to prove a taxi or delivery van was speeding."

Dunn said the NYCLU informed city officials that it wanted to make sure the government wasn't using the system to track people's whereabouts - and TLC Chairman Matthew Daus called such fears "just ridiculous."

But at this point, there's not enough law on the books to determine the parameters of GPS in the workplace.

"This is a new technology that is presenting new and important legal issues," Dunn said. "I think it's fair to say the law is very unsettled on this issue, and there will almost certainly be test litigation."

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