Jamming – Not the Bob Marley Kind

I was reading an article the other day about the proliferation of GPS technology; specifically, how those wonderful satellites sitting in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth do so much more than tell our cars how to get to where we’re going.  The time signals they emit tell our mobile phones which cell towers to talk to, they dictate how our electricity grids and air traffic control systems interact, they prevent fraud in the financial services industry and a myriad other uses.  It was interesting.

One of the problems with that proliferation though, is reliance.  With so much riding on the GPS system, it doesn’t take much to do a lot of damage.  And while the system itself is pretty reliable, the rise of counter-technologies has brought the whole system under increased scrutiny.  GPS jammers and spoofers, while illegal in Canada, are becoming increasingly common.  Sold under the guise of protecting privacy, their targets often lie in the transportation industry, where GPS location devices are used to monitor and track loads and inventory or assess tolls. 

Jammers are widely available on the internet and cost as little as fifty dollars.  Though illegal, their use still continues to rise.  Their potential for harm beyond their intended use is only starting to be realized.  In the last few years, they have shut down airports, emergency pager systems, harbour navigation, ATMs and entire mobile phone networks.

We have clients who use GPS location devices to secure their inventory and manage their services.  Those in trucking need to know when their deliveries will happen and those in vehicle rentals need to know how to locate a stolen vehicle.  Spoofers and jammers seek to undermine those applications of the GPS system.

For our clients, jammers represent a threat to their cash flow and their capital.

While our clients’ employment and rental agreements contain the requisite language with respect to consent for the GPS tracking features, in the past we have relied on the penalty provisions of the Radiocommunication Act to restrict use of jammers.  Given the increased use of these devices however, we are recommending specific restrictions in the applicable agreements, including severe penalties and indemnifications.

We feel these penalties and indemnifications may be necessary in situations where employees or customers use jammers for the purpose of undermining the proper functioning of the GPS location systems and where such jamming creates third party damage.  While the potential damage is incalculable, it is of the utmost importance that those employing GPS location services ensure that they take all reasonable steps to deter jamming and to disclaim responsibility.

Scott R. Young