Monday, September 14, 2009

Voluntary GPS tracking for the impulsive?

In our society, there are some individuals who have trouble controlling their impulses to do wrong and violate the law, unless they believe someone is watching them. Surely we've all seen traffic slow down when a police car is present, and the presence of video cameras in department stores surely cut down on shoplifting. I'm not talking about those people who will take whatever they can whenever they can. I'm talking about those who genuinely want to control whatever behavior violates the law, but in weak moments give in to the urge to do the wrongful act, and regret it later, even if they are not caught.

Such individuals, when they are of clear mind, might desire to be GPS tracked to help them curb their behaviors. Knowing someone is (or could be) watching their locational behavior will reinforce their conscience, keep them on the straight and narrow, and help them resist the passing impulse to commit crimes that are really not in their nature.

GPS technology could be set to give them feedback when they are entering a situation that might tempt them. Geofences, that is, electronic fences, could be set up to let them know they are close to an area they should stay out of, or leaving an area they should stay in.

Making GPS technology available to those requesting it for specific urges or problems would be cost effective both for the individuals and for society. The individual would lose their freedom if caught committing a crime. Society in general loses the cost of prosecuting, incarcerating and physically monitoring the individual if a crime occurs. Finally, victims of the crime stand to lose much more in property loss, bodily integrity, emotional agony, or even their lives. Victims costs are impossible to put in dollar terms.

Much like those we allow to civilly commit themselves to mental hospitals, those requesting GPS tracking could "sign themselves in" and out, presumably, or remain under surveillance. Much like the ankle-bracelet surveillance used for convicted or accused criminals, individuals voluntarily GPS tracked would have to allow the unit to be attached in such a way that only authorized personnel could remove it. Otherwise, at the first impulse the person tracked would take the GPS tracker off and commit the act. Removal would require a process, although voluntary, that would take long enough to allow the person to get through a period of bad urges without violating.

Here are some possible applications:
  1. Alcoholics could be tracked to help them keep away from drinking establishments, liquor store sales, and the like. Geofences could be programed around places that serve and sell alcohol so the person tracked would be alerted he or she was about to enter a dangerous area that might test their will power. The person tracked might even allow release of their tracks, in real time, to their AA sponsor, so an alerted sponsor might intervene in the behavior.
  2. Those who opt for criminal diversion programs may chose to allow themselves to be tracked. For instance, first offense DWI defendants might sign up to prevent that second DWI. (Insurers might insist on this as a condition of continued insurance.) This group might also use the "Geofencing" described above, along with the feedback provisions.
  3. Those under Occupational Licenses might sign up, so they know they can't deviate from the terms of their license. Loss of an occupational license could mean the loss of a job, and livelihood, so keeping on track can be very important for these individuals.
  4. Ex-convicts who are no longer under supervision might choose tracking to keep them away from other known criminals and ex-convicts-to help keep them from falling back into old habits, and keep them out of jail. "Geofencing" from known areas, addresses of other ex-convicts, and high crime areas could help them keep on the right track.
  5. Those accused of crime may want to be tracked to prove they couldn't have committed further crimes they might be accused of (such as serial crimes, like assaults or killings.)
  6. Those who have not yet committed crimes against children, but fear they might, could be Geofenced from areas where children congregate, like schools and parks.
  7. Traffic offenders - some folks can't help having a heavy foot, especially when no one is looking. Knowing GPS tracking is always looking will help them control and change their habits. Tickets not only threaten their continued ability to drive, it raises their insurance premiums, and makes them more likely to hurt or kill themselves or others. Here geofencing might be "keyed" to speed limits and perhaps, G-forces in the vehicle could be recorded.
Geofencing might be keyed to both location and/or time. In other words, it might be OK to drive by a bar, but if the GPS detects continued presence at the bar for 5 minutes or more, it will trigger a feedback alarm.

If the system is properly automated, the Geofencing can alarm whoever is tasked with "watching" those who are voluntarily tracked. The tracks, however, would be retained and archived (which would be explained to the voluntarily tracked) so if any laws were violated by the individual, the track would permanently provide evidence of the voluntarily tracked persons whereabouts at the times in question.

Even with a well administered system, some of the voluntarily tracked will give in to impulses. GPS tracking, then, will provide swift prosecution, solid evidence, and hopefully incarcerate those who only commit one crime rather than a string of crimes. Such a system would give justice to the victims, and lessen their numbers.


  1. Great post! you have some brilliant contents!

  2. Thanks for an excellent article on the merits of voluntary GPS tracking. It's been 4 or 5 years since this blog was posted. In the time since, has any such voluntary program come into existence?

    I am interested in finding out how I can be voluntarily fitted with an ankle tracking device with full geofencing monitoring. I agree that once the ankle bracelet is attached, only an authorized person should be allowed to remove it. And even then, there should be a mandatory delay of processing the removal request to avoid acting on impulse.

    Do you know if the state of Texas has a voluntary tracking program in place? I would appreciate hearing from anyone who might direct me to an agency or private monitoring company which could handle my needs. I do not have any arrests or criminal record, and have no court directed requirement for GPS tracking. I do have my reasons for entering into a voluntary program which would not be too easy to leave.

  3. In the 5 years since you first published this article regarding voluntary GPS tracking for the impulsive, I am curious if you know of the creation of any state or local programs for that purpose. I realize a private individual can contract with a gps monitoring service, but a voluntary program which is serious about monitoring impulsive tendencies would likely prove more effective. Such a program might be able to make it less likely to exit the program on a whim or in moments of weakness. Having to go through a "process" for release would be desired.


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