Can GPS Ankle Monitors Hear You?

Yes, there are GPS ankle monitors that can hear you with built-in microphones that can eavesdrop and record the conversations going on around you. The Track Group is widely reported as the largest company marketing these listening devices in ankle monitors to criminal justice agencies around the country. The states known thus far to be using them are Illinois and Indiana, as well as Puerto Rico.

However, Massachusetts Probation Services (MPS) does not contract with this company and according to the manual for the commonwealth’s most used gps ankle bracelet, the 1 Piece, there is neither a speaker nor a microphone incorporated into the unit.

The remote alcohol testing device “the Sobrietor,” powered by SCRAM Systems, does have a microphone to record the user’s voice, but Massachusetts has discontinued those units in favor of SCRAM devices with cameras and facial recognition software.

It appears that, at least for now, Massachusetts parolees, probationers and defendants on gps can take some solace that their ankle monitors are not listening in.

How Do GPS Ankle Monitors Work?

While a Massachusetts gps ankle bracelet does not eavesdrop, the unit does take a surprisingly large amount of recordings. To know why your ankle monitor is recording your data, you have to understand how a GPS ankle monitor works.

Ankle monitors work on the Global Positioning System (GPS) which uses satellites to pinpoint and track the location of an object, or in this case, a person. GPS ankle bracelets receive the satellite data and transmit the latitude and longitude coordinates over cell phone frequencies.

The unit also uses motion sensors to determine when you are moving and will store your gps coordinates internally on a minute-to-minute basis while you’re in motion.

The monitoring hub is a server that the ankle monitor communicates with over cellular networks. If the gps ankle unit fails to contact (or “call”) the server, it can hold tracking data and alerts for several days on its sim card before the data will be overwritten.

Once tracking data is on the server, it interfaces with the electronic monitoring software. This software includes a mapping layer generated by Google Maps.

Agents can then see your location on the map and most of the longitude and latitude information is displayed on-screen in real time.

Who is eligible for electronic monitoring?

If you are on bond awaiting trial, or sentenced to house arrest or a term of probation, you could be eligible for electronic monitoring in lieu of jail time.

The Electronic Monitoring or “ELMO” division is responsible for the day-to-day monitoring activities of all electronic tracking devices used within Massachusetts’ Probation Department. ELMO monitors probationers, parolees and litigants on the devices 24/7.

ELMO employees are trained to handle most low-level alerts on their own. For instance, if the monitoring dashboard shows that a low battery alert is being ignored, the agent will attempt to call the subject directly.

However, a pattern of low-battery alerts can escalate the system’s response to notify the supervising officer. That, in turn, can result in loud knocks on your door in the middle of the night.

What does it mean when an ankle monitor vibrates?

The 1 Piece ankle monitor pictured above vibrates to let the wearer know they need to look at the device lights for important feedback from their gps unit.  In some cases, the probation officer will not program the gps ELMO bracelet to vibrate when a serious violation has occurred.

For example, if you try to tamper with the strap, the ankle monitor won’t alert you, but will send an alert to ELMO. This is why if your ankle bracelet is uncomfortable and bothering you, the best practice is to let your probation officer know. Do not try to adjust it yourself!

Ankle Monitor Restrictions

Curfews and geographic restrictions are the primary types of “rules” your supervisor can set up within the ELMO software. Ankle monitoring programs come with intuitive mapping that simplifies geocoding a limited radius –called a zone, into the system.

How far can you go with an ankle monitor?

There are two types of zones that the electronic monitoring system accepts: inclusion zones and exclusion zones. Using the map, a probationer’s work address can be geocoded into the system to within a 600 ft. radius, as an example.

Almost everyone’s home address is coded in as an inclusion zone. If you are on ankle monitor house arrest, the electronic ankle bracelet will work off of a home beacon (a very narrow frequency) which can track your movements to within 6 feet. Your defense lawyer may be able to advocate that your porch and lawn area be included.

Exclusion zones are the areas and addresses that the wearer is restricted from. Examples are another person’s work and/or home address, a school, a park or any other geographic location.

The probation officer can enter timeframes for each of the inclusion zones. For example, “expected to be in” curfews are set for home and work zones.

If you are court-ordered to stay away from an individual’s address, the gps ankle monitor will trigger a violation alert any time you enter that restricted area.  This often results in a warrant for your arrest.

Other severe restrictions imposed by ELMO GPS devices:

  • While the ELMO ankle bracelet is waterproof for showering, you cannot go swimming, bathe or otherwise submerge the ankle monitor for extended periods. The unit cannot communicate over the cellular network and an alert will issue.
  • The 1 Piece gps ankle monitor has not been tested and approved for air travel by the FCC and the FAA. This means you won’t be allowed to fly unless the unit is removed by the probation department.
  • You may be ordered to pay for the gps ankle monitoring. Ankle bracelet monitor costs and probation fees must be paid before your case is fully resolved.
  • If you are in an area with spotty cell service, the gps ankle bracelet will issue alerts. You may be told to leave the area and walk until a good signal is re-established.
  • If you unknowingly enter an area where a crime was committed, you will likely be investigated as a suspect.
  • Because the probation department stores the data forever, police might use your location data to accuse you of a crime years later.
  • The ELMO ankle bracelet system stores thousands upon thousands of data points on the wearer. The data shows where you were and when you were there – to the minute, for every hour of every day you wear it. This is an extraordinary invasion by the government of your personal privacy.

If you need help defending against criminal charges in Lowell, Chelmsford, Woburn, Boston or elsewhere in MA, call Oberhauser Law now. Defense Attorney Greg Oberhauser offers free consultations to help you determine what your best options are.


Attorney Gregory Oberhauser

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Gregory Oberhauser is the ONLY attorney in Massachusetts to be distinguished as an ACS-CHAL Forensic Lawyer-Scientist by the American Chemical Society!

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