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Test Finds that GPS Tracking Devices of Released Offenders May Be Cause for Alarm

Update Date: Apr 01, 2013 12:20 PM EDT
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Many states employ the use of ankle monitors to track the movements of formerly incarcerated people who have been released on parole. Especially in the case of sex offenders, the ankle monitors can be kept on the person for life and are intended to discourage crimes. However, a recent study conducted in California found that the GPS monitoring devices were so faulty, it was a threat to public safety.

According to the Los Angeles Times, corrections officials have quietly conducted tests in order to determine the safety of its GPS monitoring devices. In 2008, California split the providers of their devices between 3M and Satellite Tracking of People (STOP). When the state sought to switch to a single provider, officials abused both of the devices in order to see which ones were more faulty.

Officials say that 3M's devices failed to meet standards in 46 out of 102 experiments. Some of the issues included that 3M's devices failed to collect a GPS location each minute, call in that information every 10 minutes and forward a text message to a parole officer if there was a problem. Experiments were also able to fool the devices by wrapping them in tinfoil. Some devices never woke from battery-saving "sleep mode". Some cases cracked, locations were sometimes off by as many as three miles and people were able to evade the GPS monitor by ducking into buildings and automobiles.

3M argues that California rigged the tests in order to switch the contract to STOP. They also say that GPS monitoring is disabled so often that it is impossible to assess whether it is accidental or deliberate.

"This is one agency's testing," Steve Chapin, the vice president of government relations for 3M's electronic monitoring division, said. "We have the most widely used system in the world. It's been proven time and time and time again to be very safe and reliable."

According to the Boston Herald, a judge ruled that Denise Milano, the head of the state's GPS monitoring system, had broken state contract law, but that her decision was upheld. The GPS monitoring device contract now belongs to STOP.

Tampering with monitoring devices can have serious effects. Ars Technica reports that, last month, a New York man removed and reassembled his GPS tracking device in just 60 seconds. He then raped a 10-year-old girl and stabbed her mother.

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