Global Positioning System (GPS) technology is causing growing concern among privacy advocates who fear that cell phones and other items could end up playing a "Big Brother" role.
The seeds of this privacy debate were planted earlier this decade as emergency responders struggled to locate people who called 911 from their cell phones. This led to enactment of the federal "enhanced" 911 law in 2005 requiring that all new cell phones be equipped with GPS technology.
With this technology, consumers can take advantage of services such as driving directions and potentially, highly targeted marketing. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle recently cited a free software project from Nokia and the University of California at Berkeley that helps drivers avoid traffic with real-time data.
Still, the technology potentially has many privacy drawbacks if it ends up in the wrong hands. One way around such concerns at this point is to simply turn off your cell phone when privacy is desired.
Some of the current debate focuses on law enforcement using GPS to track crime suspects. In September a federal judge ruled that law enforcement must have a warrant based on probable cause to compel providers to turn over customer location records.
However, in 2005, another federal judge ruled that authorities were justified in attaching a GPS device to a drug suspect’s car without a warrant, claiming that the suspect had no reasonable expectation of privacy while operating on public roads.