Over the years, the evolution of GPS technology has paved the way for advanced management systems that help businesses worldwide improve their efficiency, productivity, and profitability. The tools these sophisticated systems bring to the table reshaped entire business industries and changed the core principals of transport and logistics operations. The ability to locate vehicles, employees and mobile assets in real-time as well as obtain a vast amount of information about their operational efficiency improves the decision-making process drastically and allows executives to make last-minute changes on-the-go. However, there is a caveat to all these benefits and improvements. The legal framework for using GPS tracking for business affairs varies from country to country, and this poses a challenge for companies that have to comply with the laws in place in order to continue their operations.
Companies have an obligation to abide by the laws regarding the use of their employees’ data for their operations, and GPS tracking data is not an exception. Business owners and executives can find themselves on the wrong side of the law if they fail to adhere to the regulations. The widespread use of GPS urged governments all over the world to introduce laws that will prevent the misuse of personal data at the hands of the wrong people. For this very reason, regulations such as GDPR are put into effect around the globe to protect the privacy of personal data and set limits for employers.
The U.S. Laws on the Use of GPS Tracking
Although there isn’t a specific law regarding the use of GPS tracking devices by employers to track an employee’s location in the US Federal Law, state governments have implemented privacy laws that protect individuals and the use of their information.
As an example, California Penal Code Section 637.7. states that; (a) No person or entity in this state shall use an electronic tracking device to determine the location or movement of a person.
(b) This section shall not apply when the registered owner, lessor, or lessee of a vehicle has consented to the use of the electronic tracking device with respect to that vehicle.
(c) This section shall not apply to the lawful use of an electronic tracking device by a law enforcement agency.
(d) As used in this section, “electronic tracking device” means any device attached to a vehicle or other movable thing that reveals its location or movement by the transmission of electronic signals.
(e) A violation of this section is a misdemeanor.
(f) A violation of this section by a person, business, firm, company, association, partnership, or corporation licensed under Division 3 (commencing with Section 5000) of the Business and Professions Code shall constitute grounds for revocation of the license issued to that person, business, firm, company, association, partnership, or corporation, pursuant to the provisions that provide for the revocation of the license as set forth in Division 3 (commencing with Section 5000) of the Business and Professions Code.
To summarize, executives and employers can’t track the location of an employee without their consent. If the employees are informed about the tracking device onboard their vehicle and have given their consent, the employer can collect GPS and telematics information and use this data to improve their operational capabilities. The states of Texas, Virginia and Minnesota allow the use of a GPS tracker on a vehicle as long as the vehicle’s owner provides consent. The Supreme Court has several rulings about similar cases in 2012 and 2013 that prohibits law enforcement agencies and employers from installing vehicle tracking devices without the permission of the vehicle owner under the Fourth Amendment, but it is up to interpretation as most companies use their own vehicles for their business operations.
General Data Protection Regulation – GDPR
As Europe’s latest data privacy and security law, GDPR introduced new regulations and laws for companies around the world that collect and process the personal data of EU citizens. Even if a company isn’t based in Europe, GDPR still applies as long as European citizens and residents are involved.
There is a clear definition of what personal data encompasses in GDPR, and the law has strict rules about employee consent. Basically, if a company wants to track the movements of a vehicle that one of their employees operate within work hours, they have to inform the person, receive their consent and provide them with detailed information about how their personal data is stored and processed.
One of the most important aspects of GDPR is the fines for violating the law; a company can be fined as high as €20 million or 4% of global revenue (whichever is higher), and victims of the data breach have the right to seek compensation for damages.
Data protection principles of GDPR as outlined in Article 5.1-2:
Lawfulness, fairness and transparency — Processing must be lawful, fair, and transparent to the data subject.
Purpose limitation — You must process data for the legitimate purposes specified explicitly to the data subject when you collected it.
Data minimization — You should collect and process only as much data as absolutely necessary for the purposes specified.
Accuracy — You must keep personal data accurate and up to date.
Storage limitation — You may only store personally identifying data for as long as necessary for the specified purpose.
Integrity and confidentiality — Processing must be done in such a way as to ensure appropriate security, integrity, and confidentiality (e.g. by using encryption).
Accountability — The data controller is responsible for being able to demonstrate GDPR compliance with all of these principles.
The United Kingdom’s Stand on Vehicle GPS Tracking
Similar to GDPR, United Kingdom has strict laws about tracking the location of a person and keeping logs about their personal data. The Data Protection Act 1998 protects all essential data about employees by companies and states that employers are required to inform their personnel about how their information is stored and processed.
What are the Business Applications of Vehicle GPS Tracking?
Despite the risks involved with all the laws and regulations, businesses of all sizes continue to integrate vehicle tracking systems into their infrastructure and transition to GPS-based management systems. On-demand access to actionable data, reduced costs and increased efficiency across the board are only a few of the reasons why employers use these advanced systems.
– Resource Optimization: One of the biggest challenges of running a business is resource management. Field operations have many variables that can increase the waste of valuable resources, such as fuel and employee work hour. Vehicle tracking devices provide the essential data that can help businesses get ahead of issues that drive operational expenses.
– Productivity Boost: Almost every tool provided by vehicle GPS tracking systems has a profound effect on productivity and business owners can take advantage of these sophisticated tools to increase their efficiency throughout their operation.
– Route Planning: With the historical route data and live traffic updates, businesses can plan for more efficient routes and optimize their vehicles’ travel times. Commercial vehicles will spend less fuel with shorter routes, experience less wear and tear, and additional job orders can be completed within a workday.
– Bolstered Security: Cargo and vehicle security is a major issue for all companies, but vehicle tracking devices are armed with sensitive sensors that can detect theft and tampering attempts. GPS tracking devices can be configured to alert employees and managers, giving them a chance to inform the authorities.
– Theft Recovery: While being completely legal and even supported by a police response in the event of a theft alert, devices such as Thatcham GPS trackers are a great example of how GPS technology can be utilized to guarantee the safety of a vehicle. With over 95% recovery rates, these gadgets can help law enforcement agencies recover a stolen vehicle quickly and bring it back to their rightful owners. The loss of a vehicle and the shipment onboard can cripple a business financially, but vehicles with a GPS tracker onboard can be recovered in no time.
So, is vehicle GPS tracking legal? While there is not a definitive answer to this important question, there are specific laws in place that prohibits employers from using GPS technology on their employees without their consent. The best way to handle this issue is to check the laws about GPS tracking and create policies that follow the privacy laws within your company. EU and UK have a firm stance against the use of personal data that underlines the importance of consent. If your business operations involve European countries and EU citizens, you should ensure that your company is GDPR compliant. Otherwise, you may be subjected to massive fines and further issues with the EU countries pending an investigation. There are serious legal ramifications for a data breach or using the information gathered by vehicle tracking devices to victimize employees. Employers should always follow the regulations and laws regarding the use of GPS tracking to the letter in order to avoid getting fined by legal authorities or lawsuits from their employees for violating their privacy.