Who’s watching you?

GPS technology puts the power to track in the hands of almost anyone

CLIFF VANCURA/Durango Herald illustration Enlarge photo

CLIFF VANCURA/Durango Herald illustration

Former Pagosa Springs resident Mike Goldberg had a sneaking suspicion his wife of 20 years was cheating on him.

He decided to secretly install a GPS tracker on a truck that was in his name but that his wife drives. After several weeks, Goldberg downloaded the information and confirmed his suspicions: While he was out of town, his wife each night drove the truck to a man’s house, among other questionable places, Goldberg said.

“If I didn’t have that information, I would have been in denial, and I would have stayed in that relationship,” Goldberg said. “I needed it, because I was in constant denial.”

Sophisticated GPS technology has become so affordable and readily available, that everyday people now have the power to track one another, whether it’s a mischievous teenager, a cheating spouse or an elderly parent with dementia.

Goldberg, who now lives in Durango, purchased the GPS tracking device for a few hundred dollars from an online spy store. He briefly researched the legalities of tracking his wife. He determined he was within his rights to keep tabs on the truck.

The Goldbergs have since filed for a divorce. A formal hearing is set for March 14 in 6th Judicial District Court in Durango.

Goldberg’s wife, Dana Goldberg, said she felt “violated” by her husband’s decision to track her. She disputed his version of events, saying she never drove the truck to another man’s house while he was out of town, and there was no affair until after they decided to separate.

“There are always two sides to the story,” she said.

Dana Goldberg’s Bayfield lawyer, Marian Tone, declined to comment for this story.

How it’s used

Cellphone companies have made it easy for family members to track one another. For about $10 per month, customers can install an application on a smartphone that allows the phone to be tracked from a computer or another smartphone.

If a teenager is staying at a friend’s house, parents can make sure the child is at the friend’s house and not flouting curfew at some party. This doesn’t prevent a teenager from leaving the phone at the friend’s house, possibly tied to a dog to simulate movement. But if a parent calls the phone and gets no answer, there could be consequences.

“It is tracking the device and not the child,” said Bob Kelley, spokesman for Verizon in Denver. “It comes down to parental responsibility and the relationship between the parent and the child.”

Parents also can monitor teens with a new driver’s license without distracting the driver with a phone call, said Suzanne Trantow, a spokeswoman for AT&T in Colorado.

AT&T declined to release subscriber numbers for its tracking services, citing proprietary reasons.

Other uses include keeping tabs of family members on a ski slope or other sprawling areas where parents and children might separate.

The same can be done to monitor driving behavior of employees using company-owned vehicles or to keep track of elderly parents who have a tendency to wander off.

Limitations by law

While there are many legitimate uses for GPS tracking, residents need to be aware of the laws that exist when it comes to secretly tracking someone, said Lt. Ray Shupe, spokesman for the Durango Police Department.

“The concept that makes these uses lawful is that the individuals being tracked know they are being watched,” Shupe wrote in an email to The Durango Herald. “Where citizens run into issues with state law is when they use these devices to stalk people or monitor individuals without their permission.”

People who run afoul of such privacy laws are typically charged with stalking, Shupe said. Offenders also expose themselves to the possibility of a lawsuit.

“To track somebody without their knowledge is illegal,” Dana Goldberg said when talking about her husband’s actions.

In fact, the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office is investigating several complaints Dana Goldberg made against her husband, including that he tracked her without her knowledge, said Deputy District Attorney Alex Lowe. He declined to comment further about the pending investigation.

Once the investigation is complete, Lowe said he will review the findings and determine whether charges should be filed.

Law-enforcement agencies also faces legal limits on its ability to track people.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that federal and state agencies violated the Fourth Amendment – which protects people from unreasonable search and seizure – when they attached a GPS device to a suspect’s car and monitored his whereabouts for 28 days.

Local law enforcers said they rarely use GPS technology to track suspects, and when they do it, they first obtain a warrant granting them permission.

Pat Downs, director of the Southwest Drug Task Force, said his team has used GPS trackers owned by the Drug Enforcement Agency to monitor drug trafficking vehicles that come through the area. Authorities are typically required to exhaust other surveillance techniques before being given permission to track suspects by GPS, he said.

The Durango Police Department also has used GPS technology for criminal investigations, but the department declined to cite specific examples.

In addition to tracking criminal suspects, the Durango Police Department this summer will begin using GPS to monitor its own police cars, Shupe said. Doing so will help the department analyze patrol patterns and improve coverage effectiveness throughout the city, he said.

“GPS technology has evolved rapidly and is a very useful tool, both for law enforcement and private citizens, when used appropriately,” Shupe said.

Risks and rewards

Jeffrey Jurist, owner of www.spyassociates.com, said he sells portable devices to law enforcement and anybody who wants to track people or private property. The units have been used to “bait” cars, bicycles, money bags, televisions, air-conditioning units and other high-dollar items that might be stolen.

“There’s just so many uses,” Jurist said. “This technology basically has taken the footwork out of the monitoring business.”

Several local private investigators said they don’t use GPS tracking because of the laws that prevent tracking people without their knowledge.

“The jury is still out on some of the legalities of it,” said one private investigator in Durango who asked not be identified because of the nature of his work. “I deliberately stay away from gray areas, because I don’t want to be the test case.”

That people can track one another hasn’t noticeably affected business, said Gale Pennington, owner of Premier Investigations, a private investigation company in Durango.

“I think if it’s an individual using it on his own, it’s a very good technology,” he said.

shane@durangoherald.com

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