Scotland Is Using GPS Tracking and Other Technology to Fight Repeat Offenders

23 Jan

For years, people have been using GPS tracking for a lot more than just receiving turn-by-turn directions. Are you curious about what your cat is up to at night while you’re fast asleep? Just put a GPS tracker on its collar and let technology take care of the rest. Are you sick and tired of losing your keys all the time and finally want to do something about it? Put a GPS tracker on your key ring and, with the right app by your side, you’ll never lose track of them again.

scotland police

Law enforcement agencies around the world have also been using GPS technology to combat a wide range of issues in our society. Case in point: Officials in Scotland are using GPS tracking in association with alcohol testing to help keep an eye on offenders in the area. Their efforts, which are already a tremendous success, are directly responsible for bringing conviction rates for repeat offenders to a 17-year low.

GPS Tracking and Scotland: Fighting a Problem

The use of GPS technology is just one small but essential part of a much larger whole. People who have been convicted of alcohol-related offenses, particularly driving offenses, can be ordered to have their sweat tested for alcohol limits by the Scottish government as a part of their rehabilitation program. This, coupled with the GPS-tagging technology, helps keep an eye on their whereabouts. This is being done in an effort to avoid rushing repeat offenders to jail as the only option. Given the major declines across the board and the positive results with young people in particular, the program already seems to be working.

A representative from the Scottish government, Michael Matheson, said that there are always going to be crimes in which jailing someone is the most logical course of action to take. However, so many offenses — particularly those involving drugs or alcohol — need to embrace a much more reasonable response for long-term success. International research has long suggested that merely jailing someone is NOT the best way to prevent the person from offending again in the future.

In these cases, GPS tracking is less about being able to prove whether someone did or did not go to a bar but more about opening up new opportunities to help address the root cause of the issue at hand. A criminologist from Stirling University, Hannah Graham, said that GPS tracking helps to closely monitor someone and offer targeted support in the days or weeks leading up to their trial, all while continuing to guarantee public safety as a result. It isn’t about creating a situation in which committing a crime is impossible — this is woefully short-sighted on the best of days. Instead, it’s about offering the necessary rehabilitation to foster an environment in which an offender must leave crime behind.

It’s important to note that the alcohol problem in Scotland is a serious one. According to a group called Alcohol Focus Scotland, alcohol is a major contributing factor in more than half of the violent crimes across the country. The use of GPS tracking is not concerned about jailing someone until they no longer have a drinking problem; instead, it offers the offender the support they need to address those problems head on.

This is also not the first time that GPS tracking technology has been used in law enforcement in Scotland. A pilot program was instituted in recent years focused on both child sex offenders and in specific immigration cases. Similar programs are being carried out across the United Kingdom as well. The Scottish government indicated that they were so pleased with the results thus far that they have already begun to study how to roll out GPS tagging to a much wider audience. They indicated that they would like to get to a point that it is used in more than just cases involving specific offenses, such as drug and DUI convictions.

 

GPS Tracking: Geo-Locating Down to the CENTIMETER

18 Jan

If you had to make a list of incredible technologies that people tend to take for granted, the GPS would undoubtedly be right at the top. GPS became an important part of our daily lives over the last decade when consumer-level devices were able to provide us with turn-by-turn directions between any two points, completely eliminating the need for something like an atlas — and causing a significant amount of disruption at the same time.

gps-tracking-geo-locating-down-to-the-centimeter

Then, GPS devices were embedded inside every “smartphone” sold across the world — further advancing just what the tech was capable of and removing the need for standalone GPS devices practically overnight. Now, as the technology itself continues to advance, it seems as if global positioning systems are breaking new ground all over again. A team of researchers based out of the University of California say that they’ve discovered a newer, more efficient way to process data from GPS satellites — allowing them to enhance the overall accuracy of readings from a few meters (where they are now) to a few CENTIMETERS.

The State of GPS Today

The implications of this new computational method go far beyond consumer-level applications. This technique won’t necessarily provide us with more accurate GPS-generated directions, as we’ve really already pushed that particular benefit as far as it will go. Instead, this will be a massive advantage to industries in which precision is essential — namely, in terms of technology such as aviation, naval aviation, self-driving cars and others.

Consider the example of the self-driving car. It’s one thing for an autonomous vehicle to know that it’s supposed to go north for 500 feet, then take a left at the next major intersection. It’s another thing for it to try to do this while in traffic, mere inches from other cars and obstacles at any given point. With GPS tracking that is accurate to just a few centimeters, the chances of that same self-driving car getting from “point A” to “point B” without getting into an accident are much, much greater.

This will also be a huge boon in terms of asset tracking and protection, something that is particularly necessary as more and more factories and warehouse environments across the country turn to automation in an effort to increase efficiency and cut costs. GPS tracking tags have long been used to identify everything from merchandise on store shelves to equipment in a warehouse. Now, an employee will be able to see EXACTLY where something is at any given time, all with the right GPS tag and an app on their smartphone or other mobile device.

The experts at Phys.org also indicate that this advancement will generate a significant boon to the wearable technology industry. Centimeter-level accurate location data being shared between a mobile phone and a wearable device such as a smart watch will not only increase what these two devices are able to accomplish when tethered together, but it will do it WITHOUT increasing the demand for power at the same time.

Let Math Be Your Shining Light

None of this would be possible without the team of researchers led by professor Jay Farrell. The approach itself is advanced, but it’s actually based on some fairly straightforward math. A series of common equations are used to determine a GPS receiver’s position, which is then compared against data being received by the connected satellite. Making just a few basic adjustments to those equations helps make it easier to determine exactly where the GPS receiver is, improving accuracy as a result.

In just a few short years, GPS accuracy has gone from approximately 10 meters to 2 meters and now to just a few centimeters. As global positioning system technology continues to advance at the breakneck pace it currently enjoys, it’s exciting to think about just what is in store for us tomorrow, five years from now and beyond.

 

Airbnb and Hidden Cameras: A Match Made in Disaster (and Lawsuits)

16 Jan

Airbnb has been a controversial topic for much of its existence. For those unfamiliar, it’s a service that essentially lets you “sub-let” your home or apartment whenever you want. Are you going to be out of town for a few days? Let a visitor to your city stay in your place while you’re away, helping someone to score something much more affordable than a hotel and letting you make a few extra dollars in the process.

airbnb-has-been-a-controversial-topic-for-much-of-its-existence

Naturally, landlords have a lot to say about this – as do insurance companies. Airbnb is likely expressly forbidden by your lease agreement (or if it’s not, it will be soon). However, this doesn’t stop would-be entrepreneurs from doing it anyway. Likewise, if anything happens to your home while you’re away, you’re probably facing an up-hill battle in terms of renter’s or homeowner’s insurance claims.

There’s also the curious case of “what happens if you hide a camera in your Airbnb rental, which your tenant then goes on to find?” That’s exactly what happened in Irvine, California in 2015 in a case that is currently playing out in the public court system.

The Hidden Camera

In 2015, a German woman was visiting the Irvine, California area to take in the sights and visit some friends. She was planning on visiting for a month, so instead of staying in a hotel she found a great deal on an Airbnb in the area and went about her business – or at least, that’s what she thought.

The woman indicated during an interview that she likes to sleep at night without any clothes on, which is partially where her problems began. After staying in the home for a few days, her partner discovered a hidden camera concealed beneath a pile of candles – which is when the horror set in.

She realized that in addition to nude footage of her – which she feared could easily make its way onto the Internet – the camera also recorded audio. This meant that all of her personal conversations – both on the phone and in the room – could also be “up for grabs,” so to speak.

The Legal Implications

The woman wasted absolutely no time filing two lawsuits – one against the owners of the home and one against Airbnb itself. In terms of the owners, the suit alleged invasion of privacy and emotional distress. The Airbnb suit took things a step further, alleging negligence. She argued that this is exactly the type of thing Airbnb should be working hard to protect against in the first place.

Airbnb was, not surprisingly, non-committal in its response. In an official statement issued to its website at the time, representatives from the company said that “We expect hosts to respect their guests’ privacy. Although we can’t provide you with specific legal advice, the use of surveillance equipment may violate the law in your jurisdiction.”

The law that Airbnb was referring to is very much in place in the state of California. California is a two-party consent state, meaning that any recorded conversation where both parties (or at least two parties depending on the size of the conversation) are informed is absolutely against the law. So at least from that perspective, the woman does seem to be on valid legal ground.

Unfortunately, this is also not a unique problem – at least as far as Airbnb is concerned. Earlier in 2015, another hidden camera was discovered in a rental property – this time in Canada of all places.

As hidden camera technology becomes more advanced and more affordable at the same time, you can absolutely expect this type of thing to continue to happen. Anyone renting ANY property that others have access to – be it an Airbnb or a more traditional hotel – should take steps to protect their privacy at all costs as a result.

Six Spy Gadgets Ripped From the Movies That Actually Exist  

11 Jan

One of the most exciting elements of every spy movie isn’t necessarily the surveillance that is constantly going on, but rather the state-of-the-art gadgets used by the main character to conduct that surveillance in the first place. James Bond has had an endless number of advanced gadgets over the years, and even Batman has his utility belt filled with everything from trackers to audio recorders. You may be surprised to learn that not all of these devices are science fiction — thanks to the break-neck pace at which technology has evolved, many of them have become science FACT.

Here is a list of six spy gadgets that may feel like they were ripped straight from a Hollywood feature film but that are available for you to buy right now.

 

Clear HD Video Glasses w/ 8GB Internal Memory

If these eyeglasses with an HD video recorder inside look familiar, it’s probably because one of the main characters uses something very similar in the film “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” The camera lens is hidden in the bridge of the glasses, making them perfect for discrete face-to-face recording. They can capture faces very clearly from across a room thanks to a 720p HD resolution and even have 90 full minutes of battery life.

 

HD Spy Watch with Night Vision

James Bond regularly uses spy watches throughout his daily life, though most of those have lasers hidden inside. Though the HD Spy Watch with Night Vision won’t let you break into a safe, it WILL allow you to capture crystal clear, 1080p HD video even in total darkness. It stores one hour of HD video with no memory card, has a two-hour battery life and is even water resistant — allowing it to record in a wide range of conditions.

 

Paraben iPhone iRecovery Stick

On the TV show “Breaking Bad,” Walter White once used a simple USB device to monitor his DEA-agent brother’s investigations of his criminal empire. Sounds like a plot device, right? Wrong. You can essentially do the same thing right now with the Paraben iPhone iRecovery Stick. This spy device recovers ALL deleted data from iOS devices like iPhones and iPads and can even help restore lost voicemails, social media messages and more in a way that won’t leave a trace.

 

Executive Digital Audio Recording Pen – MQ72

On the recent HBO show “Vice Principals,” one of the main characters uses a spy pen to record the illicit activities of their boss with the intention of later using that data for blackmail. It becomes a pretty significant plot device, but what you may not realize is that similar pens exist in real life right now. The Executive Digital Audio Recording Pen captures crystal clear audio, even across a large room. It’s voice activated, stores 16 hours of audio and features an astounding 12-hour battery life.

720p HD Wi-Fi IP Light Bulb Camera

Just about every room you walk into has a light bulb in it, but what you may not realize is that every room may ALSO have a camera as well. The 720p HD Wi-Fi IP Light Bulb Camera doesn’t just include 720p HD video recording capabilities, but it can also live stream video to a phone or tablet for covert surveillance. This is exactly the type of thing that a movie spy would use to get a leg up on the international terrorist he was trying to bring down once and for all.

Xtremelife Smoke Detector Camera with 30 Day Battery Vision

Finally, we have the Xtremelife Smoke Detector Camera — a motion activated camera that records astounding 720p quality video, even in total darkness. It features a 30-day battery life and can store up to 19 hours of HD video with a 64GB memory card. Q from MI-6 was great at hiding cameras and other surveillance equipment in everyday items, so we’re honestly a little surprised that he didn’t come up with this one first!

 

Counter Surveillance: Making Hidden Cameras Not-So-Hidden Anymore

9 Jan

Technology has advanced to the point where cameras are getting smaller, more powerful and less expensive all the time. Gone are the days where you needed to carry a camera the size of a cinder block around on your shoulder if you wanted to record someone. Armed with the right equipment on your side, cameras can be almost shockingly small – which is perfect for the world of surveillance. If you want to keep an eye on someone without them knowing it, you can buy a camera that fits inside a standard desk clock or that is hidden inside the button on a tie.

Unfortunately, this also means that it’s incredibly easy for someone to keep an eye on YOU if they really want to.

If you’re concerned that there may be hidden cameras in your life, the good news is that they’re easy to spot – provided that you know what you’re looking for.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Perhaps the best way to find hidden cameras is to think like someone who may want to watch you when you least suspect it. If you feel like you’re being watched while in your office at work, for example, put yourself in the shoes of your observer. Where would you have to install a camera in the room to get the best possible angle? How far away could that camera be and still give you the quality video you need? How far down on a wall (or high toward the ceiling) could it be installed and still give you the footage you’re after?

Have any seemingly-random items appeared in your office recently, like a pen or a new wall clock? Examine these items carefully – there just might be a camera hidden inside. Remember that every environment naturally includes certain limitations when it comes to surveillance, which means that by understanding what these limitations are, you have a better chance of catching someone in the act.

The Magic of Counter Surveillance

If you give an area a thorough examination and are still concerned that there may be hidden cameras you’re just not seeing, you can use the same type of technology that someone is using against you against THEM. Counter surveillance measures are just as effective as spy cameras and come with a number of unique features that will be very helpful in this situation.

Many hidden cameras use wireless transmissions like RF signals to broadcast audio and video to their intended source. You can buy counter surveillance devices designed specifically to hone in on these types of signals, letting you know if there is a camera in the area – even if it has been hidden exceedingly well. While it’s important to note that not all cameras use these type of signals, this can still be a great way to uncover a situation that you may have been unable to with the human eye alone.

Going a bit deeper, you can also buy a lens finder that will allow you to hone in on areas of the room where a hidden camera may be present. These devices do exactly what their name suggests – they allow you to go over an environment with a proverbial fine-toothed comb, locating tiny camera lenses that may indicate you’re being watched when you least expected. Many counter surveillance devices even come with an RF detector and a lens finder in the same unit, allowing you to kill two birds with one stone.

Remember that we’ve reached a point where if you feel like you’re being watched, you’re not necessarily being paranoid. Hidden cameras are becoming more powerful and more easily concealed all the time, allowing surveillance to go completely undetected in even the harshest environments. If you really feel like you’re being watched, you just might be – which means that you need to know exactly how to find those cameras to give yourself the peace of mind that only comes with knowing your private life is truly private once again.

The Power of the Dash Camera – Not Even Cops Are Immune

4 Jan

Dash cameras, such as the kind used by local law enforcement agencies around the country, have been a controversial topic for much of their existence. Originally intended to increase visibility in the surrounding community and establish a new layer of accountability at the same time, they’ve been met with negative reactions from people on both sides of the aisle for various reasons. Cops are often less than enthused about the fact that their every activity is being recorded, while community members are constantly fighting states that attempt to enact laws to prevent the footage ever being made public.

Having said that, it’s hard to argue that there’s one thing dash cameras are GREAT at: catching stupidity in the act. Such is the case with two Utica, New York police officers who were caught planting evidence on the job in 2012. They would have gotten away with it, too — had they not carried out their illegal deed within full view of the dash camera that they apparently forgot existed.

The Curious Case of the Dash Camera Footage

At a little after 1:00 a.m. in 2012, two Utica, New York police officers made a routine traffic stop — like so many they had made before. In the entire 30+ minute dash cam video that was eventually released by the police department to the public, one of the officers clearly can be seen pulling a small bag of something out of his pocket. Some 30 seconds later, he ducks into the car. He quickly emerges… holding that very same baggie; only now he’s insisting that it’s something that he found during his routine search of the vehicle.

In their first of many official statements related to the matter, the Utica police department said that the full video clearly showed that the officer DID originally find the baggie on the suspect. Only later did he make the decision to place it in his pocket and then to pretend that he found it in the vehicle itself. None of that actually matters, but to be fair — that is what the full video shows.

For the record, the bag in question contained both marijuana and a “small residue of cocaine.” To their credit, the Utica police department doubled-down on their defense of the officers, saying that what the police officer did was an entirely defensible form of evidence processing at the scene of a crime.

The Aftermath

The video itself was eventually released to the public by way of the Utica Phoenix newspaper and was met with outrage throughout the community, as you might expect. Despite a number of statements issuing their support for the officers in question, the Utica police department did eventually begin an internal affairs investigation into the incident itself. Along the way, the video had also been sent to the FBI for further review.

“I mishandled evidence and tried to plant it on a suspect only because I forgot I was being recorded,” is not, as it turns out, a viable defense in this type of situation. Though this particular situation does have an undercurrent of humor, it’s key to remember that these types of incidents are playing out across the country every single day — and not all of them are being recorded.

The Reality of Dash Cameras: They’re Here to Stay

All of this goes to show that dash cameras and similar types of technology are becoming more commonplace in our daily lives — it’s reached the point that even police officers can sometimes forget they’re recording their own actions at the most inopportune of moments. In a weird way, though, this is actually empowering the cameras to work exactly as intended. The more ubiquitous they become, the more they fade into the background.

This idea serves to underscore the importance of always being aware of your surroundings. Any time you step out into public (or into a seemingly private area that is accessible for others), you could potentially be recorded without your knowledge.

 

How GPS Tracking Technology Exposed a Major E-Waste Problem

2 Jan

As technology has become a more and more essential part of our daily lives over the last few years, it has actually given rise to a fairly significant problem that must be solved sooner rather than later: e-waste. According to the experts at Earth911.com, e-waste is an issue that is only going to get worse before it gets better. The United States alone discards about 9.4 million tons of electronic waste every year. Only about 12.5% of that total is ever recycled. According to the EPA, there are 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver and an incredible 75 pounds of gold that can be recovered from every one million cell phones – provided that they’re properly disposed of, that is.

One nonprofit organization based out of Seattle is turning toward technology itself in an attempt to combat this issue head-on. A two-year investigation into electronics recycling was recently conducted using GPS tracking and similar devices to try to uncover the extent of the problem we now face as a society. The results were, in a word, startling.

The Basel Action Network (BAN)

The Basel Action Network used GPS tracking devices for two full years in an attempt to find out not only how much e-waste is being created on a regular basis, but where these items are actually ending up if they’re NOT headed for a recycling center. What they revealed was more than alarming – nearly 33% of all devices that are supposed to be recycled are often exported to developing countries around the world. Much of that equipment is then dismantled –  often by child labor – in an effort to acquire the valuable gold and other materials inside.

The major issue that this poses is one of health concerns. Not only does this type of work endanger the workers themselves, but it can also be a threat to their families and can even contaminate the areas surrounding the shops and the local environment.

The two-year investigation began after representatives from BAN noticed that, despite the fact that statistics associated with e-waste exports were dropping, the actual problem itself didn’t seem to be getting any better. After a careful analysis of the situation, they recommended to the federal government that GPS tracking devices be used to monitor e-waste as it moves from its origin to its destination – a recommendation that was largely ignored at the time. At that point, BAN decided that the best course of action to take would be to just do it themselves.

The Power of GPS

BAN representatives installed 200 GPS trackers into equipment that was delivered to e-waste recycling stations across the United States. What they found was that a huge volume of devices was being exported out of the United States almost immediately – roughly 65 of the 200 devices made their way out of the country. Of those, BAN estimated that 62 of them were shipped illegally. Most interestingly, it was revealed that e-waste recycling drop-off points were NOT the only source of this problem. Some of the tracked devices originated from Goodwill or other second-hand stores, while a few started their journey at major US retailers. The problem existed across ALL categories.

BAN revealed that Hong Kong has long been one of the major access points for e-waste into the rest of the world and “e-waste facilities” are now cropping up there in greater numbers all the time. Though BAN’s investigation does not solve the problem, it’s unique use of GPS technology sheds valuable light on an issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Not only can it help curb child labor issues around the world, but it can also help make sure that these devices are disposed of properly before they have a chance to cause potentially irreparable damage to the environment at large.