NY Appeals Court Approves GPS Tracking of Public Employees
Based on the court’s ruling in November, the New York State Department of Labor was within its rights when it placed a GPS tracking device on an employee’s private car without his knowledge and monitored him for several weeks (even after work hours and while he was on vacation) to determine whether he was submitting fraudulent time cards.
The case – Michael A. Cunningham v New York State Department of Labor – is one of many that raise the question of GPS tracking by the government. In a 3-2 decision, the court dismissed claims by Michael Cunningham, a former Labor Department employee who was fired for misconduct, that the use of the global positioning system device had constituted illegal search and seizure.
The NY Labor Dept. fired Cunningham in 2010, who was first hired in 1980, but had a history of misconduct, relying on data from a GPS tracking device placed in his personal car to show he had submitted false expense sheets and other travel records. Cunningham sued and demanded a new hearing, saying the data should have been suppressed at his termination hearing.
But the court ruled that the use of the GPS data was constitutional, because the GPS tracking device, which was operational at all times including after work hours, was only monitored by an investigator during work hours. Use of the GPS device was approved by the court in this circumstance, because the GPS tracking devices “were not constantly monitored” and were used only to obtain “information relevant to [the employee’s] location during work hours.”
The court concluded, according to Reuters:
“To establish a pattern of serious misconduct (i.e., repeatedly submitting false time records and not a mere isolated incident), it was necessary to obtain pertinent and credible information over a period of time. Obtaining such information for one month was not unreasonable in the context of a noncriminal proceeding involving a high-level state employee with a history of discipline problems who had recently thwarted efforts to follow him in his nonwork-related ventures during work hours.”