Thursday, December 02, 2010

GPS Tracking/Logging

I asked what I thought would be a simple question but have been unable to get a straight answer either through internet research or a call to the Office of the Canadian Privacy Commission: Is the use of covert GPS Tracking/Logging illegal in Canada?

I should start out by telling you that covert GPS Tracking/Logging is a surveillance technique that involves surreptitiously affixing a GPS-enabled device to a target's vehicle in order to observe where the vehicle goes. If the device is one which broadcasts the target vehicle's location in real-time (usually by cell signal) that is GPS Tracking. If the device is one which records the target vehicle's locations for later retrieval (by retrieving the device) that is GPS Logging. Obviously this can be a much more efficient means of tailing a target than the traditional method of an investigator following the vehicle and with the ever dropping cost of GPS technology it becomes increasingly attractive. But before investing in that equipment or undertaking to use it, I wanted to know if I can do so legally.

In my view, at present it is not illegal in Canada. Others are not so sure.

The definitions under The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act do not include my (or more correctly, my vehicle's) location as being an item of "personal information". If my location (either current or historical) is not personal information then, logically, it is not protected under the act.

Could it be argued that the legislature simply did not anticipate the emergence of this specific technology in drafting its definitions? Well, Roger Easton of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory, filed the enabling patent for GPS in 1974. In 1982, Texas Instruments Defense Systems and Electronics Group were the first to enter the commercial GPS market with the TI 4100 NAVSTAR Navigator. Magellan introduced the first consumer hand held GPS unit in 1989. Clearly, knowledge of the availability of GPS technology was well within the reach of the educated consumer more than ten years before PIPEDA became law on April 13th 2000. It would be disingenuous to claim that the legislature was unaware of the technology.

Technological questions aside, it would actually be contrary to traditional Canadian Public Policy to include my vehicle's location as being an item of "personal information" that requires protection. When I drive my black Chrysler Neon along the public highways of any province or territory in Canada I am required by law to affix a device to my car so that it is apparent that it is not just ANY black Chrysler Neon but that it is MY black Chrysler Neon.

That device is called a "Licence Plate".

The Licence Plate specifically and uniquely identifies that motor vehicle as being mine and I am legally required to display it any time that vehicle makes use of any public road anywhere in Canada. Not only am I required to display it but I am required to display it prominently and visibly - I am not permitted to cover it up or otherwise make it unreadable. That has been public policy since 1903 in Ontario (where I live) and shortly thereafter in the rest of Canada. I have no way of knowing who is going to make what use of the information obtained by the display of that device but I am required to display it.

And that makes sense. I am using public roads; I have no expectation of privacy regarding my vehicle's location. Neither do I have an expectation of privacy regarding my vehicle’s rate of speed nor its direction of travel - the roads are public; I expect my use of them to be a public matter as well.

Well then, what about private property? Don't I have an expectation of privacy inside my own home?

Yes I do. I have a complete and almost absolute expectation of privacy about what I do in the privacy of my own home. And I want that privacy protected. Vigorously.

...about what I do in there. Not the fact that I AM there. I can take steps to conceal the fact that I am at home if I choose to do so (leave the lights off, don't answer the phone) but it would be ludicrous to insist that I need the knowledge of the fact that I am present in my home protected from being known by others. If I want to play hide and seek with the bill collector that's my privilege but I can't insist that the bill collector not be allowed to use whatever legal means are available to him to determine if I am home.

Well, that's all GPS Logging/Tracking will tell you about my home - the fact that I am there. Actually, it won't even tell you that - it will tell you that my car is there; I could be out for a walk.

In my view, so long as a GPS Tracking/Logging device is affixed to my vehicle without causing any alteration or damage to my vehicle and is accomplished without trespassing (either in its placement or retrieval) then no law has been broken. I'm not a lawyer (and I don't even play one on TV) but that's my take on the legality of GPS Tracking/Logging. I would welcome any guidance anyone can provide in getting a more definitive answer.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dances With Avatars

- Victory of style over substance

I just sat through Avatar in 3D on the big screen.

WOW - it looks beautiful. I mean it, really impressive and, once you get used to the stupid glasses, you can easily loose yourself in the visual splendour of Cameron's vision. I have a definite appreciation for why this movie is pulling people in to see it - you HAVE to see it and you have to see it on the big screen. Okay? Are we all happy now? Good.

Because it's not a good movie.

I'm sorry - and I know almost no one is going to agree with me on this but GOOD movies have compelling (or, at least, interesting) stories with well-defined characters. Characters who go through some sort of development and allow us, vicariously, to grow in some way with them. If we're lucky, such movies also have interesting locales and are compelling to look at. But the settings are secondary - story and character are primary. GOOD movies have good stories and interesting characters. Avatar doesn't; Avatar isn't a good movie.

In the last hour of this nearly three hour long flight of fancy - as I was shifting in my seat trying to restore feeling to my buttocks - I kept asking myself: If they were willing to spend millions to make it look so nice why didn't they spend a couple thousand to buy a good story?

I don't know the answer to that question. I don't know why Cameron chose to tell a watered-down version of Dances With Wolves without the character-development. Did he think that a good story would somehow distract us from the visuals? Could he be right? I don't know.

I'm glad I saw it - and I encourage other people to see it, too. In 3D. On the big screen. Absolutely - once should do it though. Because ultimately, this is not a good movie.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Back From Dominican Republic

Hey - I'm back.

Interesting trip. The weather could have been better but considering the earthquake that happened and all - I guess I can't complain.

The earthquake was quite interesting. When it hit I was walking on Highway 5, making my way into the Town of Rio San Juan. Walking ahead of me was a guy on a donkey; I was just walking along in my sandals. The earthquake hit and, from that distance, it wasn't really bad but you definitely noticed it. I've been in three Earthquakes prior to this one and they all passed much more quickly; this one went on for at least a minute - at least...

Anyway, I got so distracted by the shaking of the earth that I didn't pay attention to where I was going and, before I knew it, I stepped into a big steaming pile of Pat Robertson...

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Two "sleeps" until Domincan Republic

I've gotta admit - I'm getting kind of excited!

My buddy, Wayne and I leave for the Bahia Principe Resort in Rio San Juan, Dominican Republic bright and early Thursday morning...

...and I mean early - flight leaves Toronto at 6:15 AM!

Back in September Wayne and I were talking and he was bitching about the winter coming and how he doesn't like the cold - blah blah blah - same thing he's bitched about before. So I said: "Book an all inclusive and get away." He said: "I don't wanna go by myself, will you go with me?" And I said: "Sure."

And now - here we are: two sleeps away!