It was always clear that GPS tracking brought with it an enormous amount of potential. However, over the last few years, in particular, global positioning systems have quickly proven to be something beyond what many people may have predicted even as recently as a decade ago.GPS Tracking

In the beginning, a GPS was a big, bulky, expensive device that you used to get turn-by-turn directions between any two points. Flash forward to today, and a GPS chip is built into just about every commercially available smartphone on the market. Fleet managers are using them to do everything from saving on fuel to curbing unsafe driving habits in their employees. The list goes on and on.

But as history has shown, even the brightest spots on the technological journey that we’re all on often have dark sides, too. Case in point: According to a new law, states are now required to not only monitor the whereabouts of disabled people using GPS tracking devices, but they’ll need to keep an eye on their attendants, too.

The New Federal GPS Law: What’s Happening?

To understand exactly how we got to this moment in time, we actually have to go back a few years to the Supreme Court ruling Olmsead v. LC — one that established that people with disabilities have a constitutional right to live in their own homes and communities while making decisions about the trajectory of their own lives.

In 2016, however, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act — something that is intended to streamline the way that new medications and medical devices get approved. When that act was passed, however, it included a new rule that has proven to be quite controversial. It is called the electronic visit verification system, or EVV.

The EVV requires ALL personal care programs that are funded by Medicaid to implement a system that verifies not only the identity of someone who provides care to a person with disabilities but also the date, the time and even the place where those services were provided. If any state fails to fully implement the EVV by the end of 2019, it will lose up to 1% of all Medicaid funding across the board.

In other words, if states don’t go out of their way to track personal care providers with GPS technology — and by association, the disabled people they’re providing care to — they will miss out on huge amounts of critical federal funding necessary to keep these programs going in the first place.

Even if this weren’t scary from a general privacy perspective, the specifics of the program leave a lot to be desired. Many of the states that have already implemented the EVV have outsourced data collection to private companies. This means that third parties now have access to terabytes of GPS and biometric identity data. Not only are those private companies making a huge profit on this data collection, but if those private companies get hacked (as they so often do), all of that information will suddenly be freely available to anyone with malicious intentions around the world.

The state of Ohio took things one step further in January and issued smartphone devices to all personal care attendants, which they need to carry with them wherever they go. This essentially means that those attendants will be subject to government surveillance at all hours of the day and night. Yes, many of these states make it possible to apply for an “exception” to opt out of the tracking, but getting approved for one is often a lot easier said than done.

It’s hard to say exactly what will become of this level of GPS tracking as the program continues to roll out across the country during the remainder of 2019. One thing is for sure, however — privacy advocates will be paying close attention to these and other developments for the foreseeable future.