GPS tracking device causes concerns of Apsen Dental employees

Published 4:39 pm Tuesday, January 3, 2023

The week before last, employees at Aspen Dental were notified by a patient that a suspicious person attached something to an employee’s car.

A Facebook post by employee Leia Freeman detailing the encounter received over 2,000 shares.

“A patient came in and told us they saw someone come by, get out of their truck, and stick something under our coworker’s car,” Freeman said in her post. “We all run outside and pull out a tracker. We called the cops and it was the second call they’ve gotten.”

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After an investigation into the incident by Danville Police, they discovered that the GPS tracker was attached to the vehicle as part of an ongoing investigation by another agency.

“We are limited on what we can say but we can say that there is no danger to the public,” said Assistant Chief of Police Glenn Doan. “It was part of a police investigation that does not involve Danville PD. We verified that it was authorized and part of another jurisdiction’s investigation into another matter.”

A ruling by the Supreme Court in 2012 on the case United States v. Jones determined that law enforcement placing a GPS tracker on a suspect’s vehicle is considered a search under the 4th amendment and that a warrant would be needed.

Boyle County Assistant Attorney Sarah Bryant said that there is still some nuance to the issue.

“The case law can go both ways. In some jurisdictions you need a warrant by a judge and in others you don’t,” Bryant said. “It depends on where the vehicle was when the tracker was attached. Whether or not it was on private property or public where the expectation of privacy is decreased.

She continued, “Law enforcement have been using the technology for years. I first started practicing law as a public defender in the late 2000s in Madison County. I had several cases that came up that involved law enforcement in Madison County come up placing trackers on suspected drug dealer’s vehicles.”  

Tracking technology isn’t only used by law enforcement. According to NPR, law enforcement agencies across the nation have seen an increase in tracking devices such as Apple AirTags being used by criminals to track vehicles and personal property that they intend to steal.

AirTags also caused concerns from anti-domestic violence organizations that the technology could be used for stalking. Two women in California who were victims of stalking and harassment have filed a class action lawsuit against Apple saying that the technology was used by their stalkers to track them.

With tracking technology being used by both criminals and law enforcement, Bryant said that you should use your best judgment if you see someone attaching objects to vehicles.

“It’s an ethical and moral issue,” Bryant said. “If you think something bad is happening, whether or not you are proactive about it or if you stay silent, that depends on the ethics of the individual and the circumstances of the situation.”