The value of GPS tracking has been put to use in a number of resourceful applications. Businesses monitor their company vehicles, the military tracks their aircraft and some people even keep tabs on their pets with a GPS monitor. Politicians in New York State recently added a use to the list that seems to come straight out of a plot from Law & Order, or perhaps Scandal.
State Republicans have been attempting to have attorney Edward Hennessey, a Democrat from Suffolk County, disqualified from seeking reelection to his seat in the state assembly. During court hearings for the challenge, private investigator Adam Rosenblatt testified that he placed a GPS device on Hennessey’s car for two months in an unsuccessful attempt to prove that he didn’t live in his district.
What really raised eyebrows was the revelation that Rosenblatt was hired in March 2014 by another attorney, James Walsh, acting on behalf of the Assembly Republican Campaign Committee. During the same month, Walsh received a $3,000 payment from the campaign committee.
Rosenblatt began his investigation by checking out three properties with ties to Hennessey along with accessing public surveillance footage and running searches on license plates found at the properties. In early April, while Hennessey was in the Central Islip courthouse, the investigator attached a GPS to the underside of his car. It was programmed to send notification whenever the assemblyman exceeded 55 miles an hour or entered a zone around any of the three properties.
The judge hearing the challenge ruled in favor of Hennessey, who is defending his seat against Republican candidate Dean Murray, a former assemblyman from the same district. Murray has denied knowing about the GPS device or even being aware of the committee’s use of a private investigator until he received a report of the findings.
Researching opponents is standard operating procedure in political campaigns, but the use of a private investigator is rare. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat from Manhattan, denounced the action as an affront to law-abiding citizens regardless of the legality.
This unusual story illustrates the need to find a balance between the right to information and an individual’s right to privacy. GPS is a powerful technology when used in the appropriate applications.
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