Chicago Is Tracking Kids Awaiting Trial With GPS Monitors That Can Call, Record Them Without Consent

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Appeal: On March 29, court officials in Chicago strapped an ankle monitor onto Shawn, a 15-year-old awaiting trial on charges of armed robbery. They explained that the device would need to be charged for two hours a day and that it would track his movements using GPS technology. He was told he would have to be given permission to leave his house, even to go to school. But he found out that through his monitor, officers wouldn’t just be able to track his location, as most electronic monitors do. They would also be able to speak — and listen — to him. Shawn, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is one of hundreds of children in Chicago whose ankle monitors are now equipped with microphones and speakers. The stated purpose of these devices is to communicate with the children, but they are raising concerns among civil liberties watchers that they are actually a mechanism for surveilling the conversations of these kids and those around them — and potentially for using the recordings in criminal cases.

In January, Cook County, home of Chicago, awarded a contract to the electronic monitoring company Track Group, which will lease 275 ankle monitors to keep tabs on children awaiting trial. The devices, known as ReliAlert XC3, have two-way communication capabilities that allow both electronic monitoring officers at the criminal court and employees at Track Group’s monitoring center to call an individual wearing a monitor at any time. The wearer can press a button on the device to reach the monitoring center, but there is no way to decline an incoming call. Cook County officials said juvenile probation began using the new devices in February because of their extended battery life and more secure band. The devices were also selected because of their built-in communication, as some children on probation are difficult to reach by phone. But Pat Milhizer, the director of communications for the office of the chief judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County, said the county would now review concerns about privacy.

“I can’t quite even start down the parade of horribles in terms of all the ways this could be a problem,” said Sarah Staudt, senior policy analyst and staff attorney for Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice and a former juvenile defense attorney in Cook County. “The idea that an adult can turn on a listening device while a child is, say, in the bathroom or in their bedroom is not good.”