The ability to track the whereabouts of a person, vehicle or object has been around since 1973 when the first ideas of GPS were discussed. The idea of the GPS project was to establish a system that did not suffer the problems associated with traditional navigation systems of the day.
The basis of the world’s current GPS system relied on a receiver being able to make contact with at least four satellites at any one time and by 1994 the US Department of Defence had established 24 satellites in orbit to achieve this aim. The Russian Military had its own “Global Navigation Satellite System”, which became available to civilians in 2007, and there is also the European “Galileo Positioning System” and the Chinese “Compass Navigation System.”
Developments for a GPS tracking system had been considered as far back as the 1940s but the technology at the time made this impossible. The first systems developed were for military use and built in the paranoia and fear that existed during the Cold War period, which made it easy to justify the billions of dollars required to develop a fully functioning GPS tracking system.
The military asserted that it was important for them to be able to track their submarines, aircraft and intercontinental ballistic missiles in the event of war. An accurate GPS tracking system meant that submarines could pinpoint their exact position should they need to launch their missiles.
The initial version of the embryonic system was called Navstar-GPS, which later became abbreviated to GPS and was made fully available to civil authorities after the 1983 shooting down of a Korean domestic aircraft which strayed into USSR airspace.
By 1993 the last of the 24 modern satellites were in orbit and the GPS tracking system was fully operational. Initially the system was a two-step one, with more accurate positioning of up to 20 metres available for military use, while the civilian GPS system was only accurate for up to 100 meters. In 2000 the limiting “selective availability” capability was switched off, giving everyone access to the more accurate GPS facility.
From its initial military concept, GPS tracking has now evolved into many civilian applications and along with satellite navigational systems there are implications for private surveillance and the GPS tracking of vehicles, people and pets. Geofencing ensures that a device remains within a predetermined area and geotagging allows attributes to be given to a specific GPS location such as a restaurant or hotel.