GPS Tracking Leads to Arrest and Privacy Questions

A violent abduction ended on Wednesday when police arrested Delvin Barnes, a man accused of kidnapping Carlesha Freedland-Gaither in Philedelphia three days earlier. From a criminal justice perspective, this is a story that ends well. But as Abby Ohlheiser in the Washington Post explains, the way police were able to track and apprehend Delvin is mired in privacy issues.

Delvin’s car had a GPS tracking device installed in it by the dealership that sold him the vehicle. The reason the device was put there? Because Delvin has poor credit. Here’s Ohlheiser:

Over the past few years, car dealerships — especially those catering to lower-income customers and those with poor credit — have placed GPS devices in the cars they sell, sometimes without the knowledge of the buyer.

Consumer advocates argue these devices are installed in a deceptive manner, and that they unfairly violate the privacy expectations of lower income customers, since they’re used to ensure the car payments of individuals who are financially insecure.

“Some dealerships can even use them to disable a car from starting until a payment is made,” writes Ohlheiser. According to a New York Times report she cites, the devices have been installed in over two million vehicles. And as that same report states, these “payment assurance devices” are helping to fuel sub-prime lending. They give dealerships and lenders greater power to repossess autos, while also placing low income individuals under additional surveillance and economic control.

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