Is it legal to track employees with vehicle GPS tracking?

Over the years, the evolution of GPS technology has paved the way for advanced management systems that enable companies around the world to improve their efficiency, productivity, and profitability. The tools that these sophisticated systems bring to the table have transformed the entire corporate industry, changing the core principles of transportation and logistics operations. The ability to locate vehicles, employees and mobile assets in real time, and to obtain a wealth of information about their operational efficiency, dramatically improves the decision-making process and enables executives to make last-minute changes on the go. However, there is one limitation associated with all of these advantages and improvements. The legal framework for using GPS tracking for business matters varies from country to country. This presents a challenge for companies that must comply with applicable laws in order to continue doing business.

Businesses are required to comply with laws governing the use of their employees’ data for their operations, and GPS tracking data is no exception. Business owners and executives can find themselves on the wrong side of the law if they fail to comply. The widespread use of GPS prompted governments around the world to put in place laws that prevent the misuse of personal information by the wrong person. For this reason, regulations such as the GDPR are enacted around the world to protect the privacy of personal data and to set limits on employers.

The US laws governing the use of GPS tracking

While there is no specific law in U.S. federal law regarding the use of GPS tracking devices by employers to track a worker’s location, state governments have put in place privacy laws that protect individuals and the use of their information.

As an an example, California Penal Code Section 637.7. States that; (a) No person or organization in this state may use an electronic tracking device to determine the location or movement of any person.

(b) This section does not apply if the registered owner, rental company, or renter of a vehicle has consented to the use of the electronic tracking device in relation to that vehicle.

(c) This section does not apply to law enforcement agency’s law enforcement agency using an electronic tracking device.

(d) In this section, “electronic tracking device” means any device attached to a vehicle or other moving object that uses electronic signals to indicate its position or movement.

(e) Violating this section is a misdemeanor.

(f) Any violation of this section by any person, company, firm, corporation, association, partnership, or corporation licensed under Section 3 (beginning with Section 5000) of the Business and Professions Code constitutes revocation of this License granted to the person. Enterprises, firms, corporations, associations, partnerships or corporations in accordance with the provisions that provide for the revocation of the license under Section 3 (beginning with Section 5000) of the Business and Professions Code.

In summary, executives and employers cannot track an employee’s location without their consent. When employees are informed about the tracking device on board their vehicle and have given their consent, the employer can collect GPS and telematics information and use this data to improve their operational skills. The states of Texas, Virginia and Minnesota allow the use of a GPS tracker on a vehicle, provided that the owner of the vehicle gives permission. The Supreme Court issued several rulings on similar cases in 2012 and 2013 prohibiting law enforcement agencies and employers from installing vehicle tracking devices without the vehicle owner’s permission under the Fourth Amendment. However, it is to be interpreted as most companies use their own vehicles for their business.

General Data Protection Regulation – GDPR

As Europe’s newest data protection and security law, the GDPR has introduced new rules and laws for companies around the world that collect and process personal data from EU citizens. Even if a company is not based in Europe, the GDPR applies as long as European citizens and residents are involved.

There is a clear definition of what personal data includes in the GDPR, and the law has strict rules for employee consent. If a company wants to track the movements of a vehicle that one of its employees is operating within working hours, it must inform the person, obtain their consent and give them detailed information on how their personal data is stored and processed.

One of the most important aspects of the GDPR is the fines for violating the law. A company can be fined up to EUR 20 million, or 4% of global sales, whichever is greater, and victims of data breaches have the right to seek compensation.

Data protection principles of GDPR as described in article 5.1-2:

Legality, fairness and transparency – The processing must be lawful, fair and transparent for the data subject.

Purpose limitation – You need to process data for the legitimate purposes expressly indicated to the data subject when they were collected.

Data minimization – You should only collect and process as much data as is strictly necessary for the stated purposes.

accuracy – You must keep personal data correct and up-to-date.

Storage limitation – You may only store personal data for as long as is necessary for the stated purpose.

Integrity and confidentiality – Processing must be carried out in such a way that appropriate security, integrity and confidentiality are guaranteed (e.g. through the use of encryption).

accountability – The person responsible for data processing is responsible for being able to prove compliance with all of these principles through the GDPR.

The UK’s stand on GPS vehicle tracking

Much like the GDPR, the UK has strict laws on tracking a person’s whereabouts and keeping logs of their personal information. The 1998 Data Protection Act protects all essential data about employees by companies and states that employers are obliged to inform their employees about how their information is stored and processed.

What are the business applications of vehicle GPS tracking?

Despite the risks associated with all laws and regulations, companies of all sizes continue to integrate vehicle tracking systems into their infrastructure and move to GPS-based management systems. On-demand access to actionable data, reduced costs and consistently higher efficiency are just a few of the reasons employers use these advanced systems.

– Resource optimization: One of the biggest challenges in running a business is resource management. Field operations have many variables that can increase the wastage of valuable resources such as fuel and staff time. Vehicle tracking devices provide the essential data that can help companies solve problems that increase operating costs.

– Increase in productivity: Virtually every tool provided by vehicle GPS tracking systems has a profound impact on productivity, and business owners can leverage these sophisticated tools to increase their efficiency throughout their operations.

– Route planning: With the historical route data and live traffic updates, companies can plan more efficient routes and optimize the travel times of their vehicles. Commercial vehicles use less fuel on shorter journeys, are less worn and additional jobs can be completed within one working day.

– Reinforced security: Freight and vehicle safety is an important issue for all businesses. However, vehicle tracking devices are equipped with sensitive sensors that can detect attempts at theft and tampering. GPS tracking devices can be configured to alert employees and managers and give them the ability to notify the authorities.

– Theft protection: Devices like Thatcham GPS trackers are legal and are even supported by a police response in the event of a theft alarm. However, they are a great example of how GPS technology can be used to keep a vehicle safe. With a recovery rate of over 95%, these devices can help law enforcement agencies quickly recover a stolen vehicle and return it to its rightful owner. Losing a vehicle and having it delivered on board can cripple a business, but vehicles with a GPS tracker on board can be recovered in no time.

Conclusion

Is GPS tracking of vehicles legal? While there is no definitive answer to this important question, there are specific laws that prohibit employers from using GPS technology for their employees without their consent. The best way to solve this problem is to review GPS tracking laws and create policies that are in line with privacy laws in your company. The EU and UK are strongly opposed to the use of personal data, which underscores the importance of consent. If your business involves European countries and EU citizens, you should make sure that your company is GDPR compliant. Otherwise there could be massive fines and further problems with the EU countries until an investigation is pending. There are serious legal ramifications for a data breach or the use of information gathered by vehicle tracking devices to harass employees. Employers should always closely follow the rules and laws governing the use of GPS tracking to avoid being punished by the judicial authorities or lawsuits by their employees for invading their privacy.

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