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GPS Ankle Monitors Can Record Calls Without Consent, And?

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Judges routinely order criminal defendants to wear ankle monitors in lieu of incarceration.

But some ankle monitors also take and record phone calls from probation officials, and that is causing a stir among privacy advocates. What if somebody else calls? What if the defendants make incriminating statements? Of course, people have privacy rights. But most defendants don't complain for any day they don't have to spend in jail.

Privacy Rights

The Track Group can call and record defendants while on probation or awaiting trial. The company's tracking device, ReliAlert XC3, is used widely in criminal justices systems. But in 2014, a technician testified in a case that the listening and speaking functions can be activated without warning. Calls can come in at any time, and they cannot be declined.

Kate Weisburd, a professor at George Washington University Law School, said that is a problem. Although consent is an issue, she said criminal defendants still have privacy rights. "Consent can't just be a blanket, carte blanche excuse for any type of privacy invasion," she said. "There has to be some limit."

In Cook County, Illinois, officials are reviewing those concerns for juvenile defendants. Pat Milhizer, director of communications for the chief judge, said the court has no knowledge of any privacy violations.

No Knowledge of Privacy Violations

She said the communications feature is used "to inform the juvenile if the battery is low or that he or she entered an exclusionary zone where there is somebody or a place they must avoid."

"These communications allow the juvenile to remain in compliance with court-ordered electronic monitoring to avoid further arrest and/or detention," Milhizer wrote in an email to The Appeal.

Shawn, a 15-year-old, is one of those kids. He is wearing a monitor while awaiting trial on charges of armed robbery. His mother is worried, and not just about the criminal charges pending against her son. "I feel like they are listening to what he's saying," she said. "They can hear everything. We could be here talking about anything."

That, of course, could be a whole other problem.

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