Global Positionning System Versus the Right To Privacy

Global Positionning System Versus the Right To Privacy

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Global Positionning System Versus the Right To Privacy


From the beginning of time, man has tried to find out where he was and where he was going. Locating places as well as himself has long been a quest. Mankind developed a number of early inventions to help with this search including the compass, the sextant, the map with longitude and latitude, charts, plans, graphs, telescopes, binoculars and numerous other tools to assist him. The most current, extensive, far-reaching and comprehensive of these is the Global Positioning System (GPS).

GPS is a satellite navigation system made up of a network of 24 satellites. The original designers and engineers had military use in mind. It was placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense, and it was originally intended to aid navigation, troop deployment and artillery fire. The official U.S. Department of Defense name for the GPS is the NAVSTAR system, which stands for Navigation Satellite Timing and Ranging. This system cost the United States billions of dollars to develop and build, with the constant additional cost of maintenance. The first GPS satellite was launched in 1978, predating the introduction of the personal computer. The full constellation of 24 satellites was completed in 1994. Each satellite is built to last about 10 years, and replacements are constantly being built and launched into orbit. In the 1980's, by an executive order, the United States Government made the system available for civilian use, and there are no subscription fees or setup charges. GPS works anywhere in the world, in any weather condition.

A GPS satellite weighs approximately 2,000 pounds and is approximately 17 feet across with solar panel extended. The 24 GPS satellites orbit the earth about 12,000 miles above us. They make two complete orbits in less than 24 hours. Currently there are 21 active satellites with 3 operating spares. These satellites are traveling at speeds of approximately 7,000 miles per hour. The GPS satellites are powered by solar energy.

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There are backup batteries onboard to keep them running in the event of a solar eclipse. The GPS satellites transmit two low power radio signals called L1 and L2. Civilian GPS uses the L1 frequency of 1575.42 MHz in the UHF band. The military uses the L2 radio signal. The satellite signals are timed using highly accurate atomic clocks. The signals travel by line of sight, which means they pass through clouds, glass and plastic, but will not travel through most solid objects such as mountains or buildings.

There are three segments to the system including:

The Space Segment consisting of the 24 satellites is the heart of the system. The satellites orbits the earth every 12 hours, and they are arranged in 6 orbital planes equally spaced 60 degrees apart. A GPS receiver on earth can always receive from at least four of them at any time.

The Control Segment controls the GPS satellites by tracking them and providing them with corrected orbital and clock information. There are 5 control stations located around the world, 4 unmanned monitoring stations and 1 master control station located at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado.

The User Segment consists of the GPS receiver and the individual user. The GPS receivers convert the monitor station signals into position, velocity, and time estimates. Receivers are made for aircraft, ships, ground vehicles and for hand carrying by individuals. The user can be the military or the police, or a boater, pilot, hiker, hunter, or automobile driver.

Precise Positioning Service (PPS) refers to authorized users with cryptographic equipment and keys and specially equipped receivers use the PPS. The United States and Allied military, certain United States Government agencies can use the PPS. Standard Positioning Service (SPS) refers to civil users worldwide.

The GPS signal contains three different bits of transmitted information:

A pseudorandom code is an I.D. code that identifies which satellite is transmitting the information.

¨Ephemeris data contains information about the status of the satellite, date and time and the part of the signal which determines position.

¨Almanac data shows where each GPS is throughout the day, including the orbital information for that satellite and for every other satellite in the system.

The GPS receivers take this information and use triangulation to calculate the receiver's exact location. The GPS receiver compares the time a signal was trasmitted by a satellite with the time it was received. The time difference tells the GPS receiver how far away the satellite is. A GPS receiver must be locked on to the signal of at least three satellites to calculate a position including latitude and longitude (2D) and track movement. With four or more satellites in view, the receiver can determine the receiver's 3D position, latitude, longitude and altitude. Once the receiver's position has been determined, the GPS unit can calculate speed, track, trip distance, distance to destination, and much more information.

GPS has a variety of applications by civilians, on land, at sea and in the air. At sea, GPS can be used for navigation by commercial ships and boats, merchant marine, and recreational boaters. The scientific community uses GPS for numerous engineering tasks such as surveying. Basic survey units can offer accuracy down to a centimeter. Recreational users include hikers, hunters, snowmobilers, mountain bikers, and cross country skiers. GPS is rapidly becoming commonplace in automobiles. GPS can develop a route or record a journey in a track log. In the air, exceptional positioning information is critical.

This is especially true in deteriorating weather conditions, when visibility is dramatically impaired. GPS can save peoples lives in these situations.

The GPS is an advanced, innovative and complicated piece of technology. It utilizes a relatively minor piece of equipment and allows an amazing amount of information to be easily gathered and transmitted. The technology is here and currently in use, and society is faced with the question of how we wish to use this technology while preserving the hard won concept of the right to privacy. The United States Government and most other government agencies would argue that the most important consideration is the general welfare and safety of the population. That means they are in favor of unrestricted use of the GPS. Commercial and corporate enterprise would argue that the most important consideration is the marketability of the device and the general usefulness and convenience provided by the GPS. Constitutionally speaking, it is important to consider the underlying repercussions of this remarkable technology. The essential underlying question to be explored is the Right to Privacy versus the Common Good.

The Constitution of the United States of America begins "We the People of the united States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." There can be little argument that these words would support the development and expansion of technological advances such as the GPS to enhance the general welfare. Although the Authors of the Constitution could not have imagined such devices, they did provide a framework for reviewing the use of such a system.

It is interesting to note, the term "the Right to Privacy" is not explicitly used in the Constitution. The references supporting the Right to Privacy usually refer to The First Amendment which states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances", and The Fourth Amendment which states "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized".

The concept of the Right to Privacy is based on the ideas and concepts contained in these two amendments, and they have been significantly explored and reviewed over the past 226 years. Initially, in the first 100 years of the Constitution, the concept of a right to privacy was connected through the legal doctrine of the right to private property. The English philosopher, John Locke, heavily influenced American thinking. He wrote that property is based in "an original law of nature", and in the United States, the right to private property was considered semi-sacred. It was a reflection of a natural law, an inalienable right. In an 1890 essay by Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis, a future Supreme Court Justice, the idea was developed that the right to privacy is conceptually distinct from other freedoms, particularly the right to private property. They framed their argument in terms of "the right to be let alone", and referred to the "rights of private and domestic life" as "sacred". In the l960s, the Supreme Court case of Griswold v. United States is commonly credited with establishing a constitutional right to privacy. In Griswold, the Supreme Court ruled that a Connecticut statute forbidding the use of contraceptives violated the right of marital privacy. Overnight, privacy was established, recognized and honored, and numerous other cases followed suit.

There continues to be a struggle in identifying the boundary between an individual's right to privacy and the common good. I believe that the GPS system should be available for people in the private sector who want to use it. I also believe that the government should not be allowed to use GPS to track people and infringe on their right to privacy. The Global Positioning System was developed by the government using tax dollars collected from United States citizens. Such an advanced technological tool provides convenience, usefulness and safety. However, I am concerned the government will use this technology to invade our right to privacy. So as citizens we need to protect our rights and make sure the government's use of GPS does not go unsupervised.

Reference List:

1999 Federal Radionavigation Plan, February 2000. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation and Department of Defense. Available on line from United States Coast Guard Navigation Center.

GARMIN International, Inc., December 2000. Available on line www.garmin.com.

¨Global Positioning System Overview, Peter H. Dana, 2nd Edition, May 1, 2000.

Available on line from Department of Geography, The University of Colorado at Boulder.

¨Global Positioning System Standard Positioning Service Specification, United States Coast Guard, 2nd Edition, June 2, 1995. Available on line from United States Coast Guard Navigation Center.

¨Kaplan, Elliott D. ed. 1996. Understand GPS: Principles and Application. Boston: .Artech House Publishers
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