Massachusetts lawmakers, court take up use of GPS

| 9/23/2009

The state of Massachusetts may soon have to rely solely on the word of state employees for their whereabouts if a state lawmaker gets his way. Also, the Supreme Judicial Court in the state has given the thumbs-up to secretly using global positioning satellite technology to track suspects.

Rep. Robert Nyman, D-Hanover, has offered a bill that would prohibit state authorities from tracking workers with GPS technology. Exceptions would be made only if the device’s use is approved during collective bargaining agreements.

If approved, the Massachusetts Highway Department would have to discontinue its use of GPS devices. The agency uses the technology to track snowplow and road salting contractors.

The Eagle-Tribune reported that Haverhill installed the devices to provide accountability to city-owned vehicles in the aftermath of a scandal involving former city Highway Superintendent James Flaherty and his son, Kevin, a former official with the department.

The two were charged criminally of using their jobs to defraud the city and benefit their personal businesses. According to the newspaper, among the allegations against the father and son was that they used city equipment on private paving jobs and that they drove their city-owned SUVs to their private jobs.

The bill – H3012 – is in the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled this week on a matter related to the state’s use of GPS. As long as authorities have a warrant, the court decided that the state constitution allows police to install tracking devices on a suspect’s vehicle.

The court said that using the technology as an investigative tool, which can require law enforcement to secretly gain entry into a vehicle to install the device, doesn’t violate the state’s ban on unreasonable search and seizure.

Use of a device is limited to 15 days. At the end of that time police must show why the device needs to remain in place.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Massachusetts in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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