For better or worse, we’re tracking others or being tracked ourselves like never before.

The technology is awesome.

Just ask Jerome Richard, a Mexico man who used free software to achieve the near-impossible – finding his wife’s lost cell phone in Las Vegas, a place not particularly known for its honest and helpful inhabitants. Lose something on the Vegas strip and you might as well write it off as gone forever, which Richard did until he remembered the joys and wonders of technology.

“At around 6 a.m., I quickly awoke with an epiphany,” Richard says of that moment. “I had installed and activated ‘Find My Phone’ on all our phones and it just so happened I had my wife’s iPad with us.”

Anybody over the age of 8 knows how this works. With the help of the ‘Find My Phone’ app, Richard’s wife’s cell phone and iPad were linked together, capable of communicating even over vast differences. With that awesome technology in hand, all Richard needed to do was head onto the strip on a high-tech treasure hunt.

“I quickly reactivated the phone online, fired up the app on the iPad and lo and behold there’s my wife’s phone blipping on the screen,” Richard says. “And it’s on the move.”

And so was Richard. He tells the rest of the story like an intrigue novelist.


“So using my iPhone as a 3g hotspot tethered to the iPad, I set out on foot to track down the phone. I was quite the sight running down the streets with the unfolded iPad in one hand, the phone in the other over my head (kept dropping the signal) and navigating the early-morning traffic. About six blocks later I can see the blip is about midway down this one particular city block and there’s only three people on that side of the street.”

Two of those people were homeless men.

“I approached cautiously and informed them that I think — make that I know — they have my wife’s phone,” Richard continues. “After a short conversation and calling my wife’s phone to prove he had it, the guy starts rifling through his pack and I finally recognize my wife’s phone and he gives it back to me. That’s only after I passed on the other 10 phones that were in there. I gave him $20 (and $10 to his buddy) for his troubles and I was on my way back to the hotel, a little tired and sweaty, but successful. When technology works, it’s great. Also, doesn’t hurt to have a little tenacity and a good set of runner’s legs.”

So, you see? Awesome. Technology that is today available to all helps people find their missing pets, track their children and find their lost phones. It provides proof against cheating spouses and abusive babysitters. It allows employers to monitor their employees’ driving habits and police to have proof about the drunk driver at the traffic stop. Technology makes our lives easier. What’s not to love?

Some say it’s a matter of who is doing the tracking and why.

Presumed guilty?


Stand on any major street in Lewiston and look around. Chances are real good you’ll see at least a couple round glass eyes looking back.

In 2010, Lewiston police announced a number of surveillance cameras had gone up around the city. Cameras in the bell tower of City Hall watching most of the downtown. Cameras in the parking garages, cameras in the schools – at the time, there were 68 cameras watching Lewiston High School alone.

City officials boasted of more to come: Someday, according to Assistant City Administrator Phil Nadeau, every city building will be under a surveillance camera’s watchful gaze. “It’s all part of the overall increase in security, and it serves much the same purpose that a security guard once did,” Nadeau said, “except we don’t have to pay the security guard’s salary.”

The Department of Homeland Security awards billions of dollars annually to cities and towns across the country to be used to install surveillance cameras. Most municipalities are taking full advantage, too. The mayor of Chicago, for instance, has announced that there will be a camera on every street corner by the year 2016.

In the United Kingdom, there is said to be one surveillance camera for every 11 citizens.

Surveillance cameras that watch every parking lot, back alley and city street help police catch bad guys. And that’s on top of the traffic control cameras installed in most major intersections and along the highways.


Technology is great!

Until, you know, it’s not so great. In which case technology can be a violation. An intrusion. A weapon. Particularly when it comes to government tracking.

“I don’t like surveillance,” says Tim Lajoie, an Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department corporal and candidate for sheriff. “You have a private business and you want to buy a surveillance camera, that’s your right. But I don’t like any mechanism that’s meant to spy on citizens.”

As a criminal justice professional, you’d expect Lajoie to be all for the various gadgets and software that can watch the populace at all times in all places. But he is not. For Lajoie, it all comes down to due process and the presumption of innocence.

“My primary concern,” he says, “is a constitutional one. Americans get the presumption of innocence. I’m presumed to be innocent unless you bring forth evidence that I’ve done something wrong. And to just go ahead and mine information, from whatever source — whether it be from community records or a random stop on the street to ask for my license or the NSA recording my phone calls — you’ve somehow indicated to me, as my government, which I fund and support, that you distrust me, and I have to prove that I’m law abiding. I don’t find that to be due process, like the Constitution requires.”

And there, as they say, is the rub with some of today’s tracking technology. By and large, people tend to love the fact that they can punch up an app on their smartphones whenever they need to find their place in the world. In the private realm, it’s completely voluntary. When the government gets to using that technology, it’s not voluntary at all.


Critics worry that Big Brother spying might lead to all kinds of misfortunes, including government watch lists that may eventually include ordinary American citizens. View too many Alex Jones videos on YouTube or spend too much time studying the Constitution, you could end in a secret government database. Good luck trying to fly on a commercial airline when that happens.

They worry about the government meddling in their financial affairs and collecting data about their personal lives. They worry that the erosion of the Fourth Amendment (the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects) will lead to the erosion of other rights. They worry that spying will have a chilling effect on the way we communicate with one another.

To love technology or fear it, this is the question.

What’s out there

A few examples of existing tracking technology (that we know about) include:

* RFID: Radio Frequency Identification technology transmits radio frequency signals from a chip embedded in something carried on the child or pet such as a lanyard, perhaps, or a collar.  The radio signal is received by an installed system that plots and records the location of the chip at any moment.


* GPS: Global positioning can be used in a variety of ways. Some parents opt to have their children wear stylish wristbands that use GPS or carry a cellphone that send data to software applications on the parent’s handheld devices and smartphones. The parents can then monitor their child’s location in real time.

* Computer monitoring software: Countless companies offer this software, with which a parent can monitor their child’s online activities in real time from a remote location. Some businesses use the software to keep an eye on their employees’ online activity.

* Biometrics: Fingerprint and iris scans. Biometrics uses scanned high-resolution images of a person’s distinct features to use as an identity or method of access. Some schools are using digital fingerprinting and iris scans to provide security and convenience for students.

* Surveillance and web cameras: Millions of people use webcams to communicate visually with friends and strangers on the World Wide Web. Homeowners use them to protect their property and, on a larger scale, city governments use bigger, more versatile cameras to keep an eye on the populace.

There’s no getting around the fact that these tracking technologies can make our lives easier and more efficient. Delivery companies use GPS and other technology to be aware of their drivers’ every movement, which enables the consumer to track packages in near-real time and the company to monitor their drivers. The same technology is used by pizza delivery companies, ambulance services, cab companies, and fuel distributors.

“We use vehicle tracking for a number of reasons, but to reduce cost is the biggest,” says Gelson Miranda, general manager at J&S Oil of Lewiston. “We keep track of idle time of vehicles and to insure that vehicles are not being used during non-business hours. We use it to verify times for technicians. We also use it to see who may be closest to a non-scheduled customer. We can see speed, routes, stops, etc.”


Newspapers use it too.

“GPS devices in each vehicle are coupled with current technology,” says Mike Theriault, circulation director at the Lewiston Sun Journal. “I can basically watch our fleet (as well as who is driving each vehicle) 24/7 from my iPhone, iPad or desktop, anywhere there is internet.”

Then there’s the woman who wrote to tell us she used spying software on her home computer to reveal her boyfriend’s “twisted fetish porn use.”

And on a more upbeat note, around the country millions of dogs (and a few cats) are equipped with implanted microchips using RFID technology. Every one of those pets gets a unique identification number that is entered into a database. Lose Snoopy in any corner of the country and anyone with a microchip scanner will be able to determine who that animal belongs to.

“We had a shelter cat that was chipped,” says Michelle Murchie of New Orleans, who responded to our query. “Got away from us and was returned to us after being scanned at a shelter miles from home.”

That’s why at the Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston, all animals that go out for adoption are equipped with microchips. The shelter also offers the service to any pet owner who requests it.


Big Brother and technology

There was a time when the average American didn’t mind Big Brother also using technology for a little snooping. In fact, they welcomed it.

“Let’s be honest,” says Lajoie, with the sheriff’s office. “Since 9/11 there is this fear. People want a sense of security.”

After 9/11 came the Patriot Act, which granted the government permission to use all the technology at its disposal to keep us safe. For years, the bulk of the population seemed perfectly OK with intrusions they saw as minor inconveniences.

Ed Snowden may have changed that. When the whistle-blower came forward with information about the federal National Security Administration’s capabilities and practices, even the most indifferent of Americans took notice. The NSA wasn’t just snooping on suspected terrorists, they were snooping on all of us, with no phone call, e-mail or text message beyond its grasp. That’s admitted now. It’s on the record. But, we have been told, it’s all done in the interest of public safety.

For some, however, the idea that government has access to so much of our personal information is unnerving and a genuine cause for paranoia.


“I think,” Lajoie says, “that we should be suspicious of a government wanting to know everything that we’re doing, what we’re saying, what we’re writing (and) who we’re associating with — and not wanting the same scrutiny in return. I think it’s just basic human nature: I don’t trust somebody who doesn’t trust me when they don’t have cause.”

To the public, of course, Big Brother includes local police departments, like Lewiston and Auburn, where patrol officers can tap in a license plate number and have information on a driver in seconds thank you.

Some people resent it, including those who have nothing to hide.

“I’ve actually had a police officer say to me, ‘The public hates us,'” says Lajoie, who served 20 years as a corrections officer. “I said, ‘Well geesh, have we stopped to ask why?’ There’s a trust somehow that got eroded. I don’t know exactly where it got lost. It’s a bridge that must be rebuilt.”

As a law enforcement official, Lajoie knows how important technology is in combating crime and mayhem. But as one who was also sworn to uphold the Constitution, he worries about high-tech assaults on individual liberties.

“I approve of the use when there is a reason for it,” he says. “It’s the indiscriminate use of it that I can’t stand. If you don’t have a reason to use it and you DO use it, I think you’ve overstepped your authority.”


In the ultimate irony, a good chunk of the citizen population is now demanding that police be equipped with body cameras to monitor their day-to-day interactions. In Ferguson, Mo., the most recent epicenter of police vs. citizen conflict, cops are already being outfitted with the technology.

The good, the bad and the Orwellian

People, in general, love their tracking technology. There’s no debating it’s useful, and we’ve come to rely on it.

Including tracking technology that we sometimes can’t even comprehend. Police dispatcher, ham radio operator and admitted geek Cory Golob of Sabattus, can talk at length about Automatic Position Reporting System, a newer spin on something called “packet radio,” which is used in the amateur radio community to, among other things, exchange GPS coordinates. Wait, keep reading, this matters to you.

“Every October, the Androscoggin Amateur Radio Club utilizes APRS during the Dempsey Challenge,” Golob says. “An APRS tracker is sent with a ham radio operator on the vehicles that go throughout the course and each rest stop.

“We also have an APRS tracking unit at the lead and tail of the race. Without asking where the last biker is, we can just look at the map and see where that station plotted. Saves time.”


Golob adds, “We have placed APRS-capable radios at all of the hospitals. In case of an emergency, properly licensed operators can send text messages to other hospitals or agencies.”

See? Awesome!

The question is, as tracking technology advances, will we still think it’s awesome when we’re required to have RFID chips embedded in our bodies or tattooed on our skin in order to make purchases at the grocery store or to pass through security checkpoints at the airport?

The technology is already available, with some people volunteering to be the first to receive the chips. Some call it a major advance that will eliminate the need for things like paper currency, plastic credit cards and ID forms you have to carry around everywhere you go.

Others think of it as the Mark of the Beast, the ultimate way for the The Man to track and control us.

And maybe for good reason. Even some of today’s seemingly harmless tracking technology can cause serious heartburn.


“Regarding your query about the GPS tracking,” one reader recently wrote, relating a tale about her husband, who worked for a local company for more than 30 years before technology sent him packing.

“They brought on the Pegasus system of tracking their vehicles. It seemed to become the management’s own personal video game. (Hubby) was once asked why his truck was idling for 10 minutes in the middle of a stretch of road, when he was supposed to be on his way to his next customer. He had pulled over to use his cell to call in for directions to the customer. The dispatcher put him on hold!”

She continued: “He would often be asked why he had strayed from the route that Pegasus had laid out. He knew the area and he knew that if he had used that (Pegasus) route he would have been sitting in . . . traffic for a half-hour.

“The constant feeling of ‘Big Brother is watching’ drove him out,” she concluded.

If you want to track and be tracked . . .

Tracking and surveillance technology I can personally vouch for.

Cerberus Anti-theft: The ultimate software to find your phone, find out who has your phone and make your phone defend itself from a remote location. No, really. It’s easy to locate a missing phone with Cerberus, which will use its GPS coordinates to pop up a map. From there, the fun begins. You can instruct your device to snap a photograph so you can see the surroundings. If a thief has your phone, you can snap a photo of his thieving butt and record audio to help you zero in on him. If all is lost, you can use Cerberus to lock the device or wipe all the private data off of it. It’s a nuclear option I haven’t needed yet. Everything else, I’ve used with great success. Cerberus helps me sleep at night.


IP Webcam: Turns your phone into a surveillance camera so you can use it for a variety of things. Set it up around the house so you can watch your home while you’re away. Hide it in a piece of furniture so you can keep an eye on the babysitter. Me, I’ve only used it to reveal a wild animal that was snooping around under my carport. Worked like a charm. It was a raccoon.

Where’s my Droid: Similar to Cerberus in function. Find your phone using GPS technology, sound an alarm, lock the device, wipe it, etc.

My Tracks: Here’s a spiffy app that will record every inch of your journey whether you’re on foot, on a bike or in a car. Records all data — from speed to distance to elevation — and you can share those tracks with friends. Isn’t it ironic how we complain about our privacy being invaded and then install programs like this onto our gadgets? A warning: Google owns My Tracks and Google hasn’t proven to be the most respectful company when it comes to privacy.

Glympse: Share your location with someone in real time. Let others follow your location on a dynamic map posted on Facebook or other social media. See what I mean? Ironic.

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