Cook County, home of Chicago, Illinois, has implemented a GPS monitoring system that calls and records youth without their consent, according to a new article published yesterday (April 8) by The Appeal in partnership with Citylab

Per “Chicago is Tracking Kids With GPS Monitors That Can Call and Record Them Without Consent” by Kira Lerner, in January, government officials contracted with electronic monitoring company Track Group to lease 275 ankle monitors to trace children on juvenile probation. The city switched children to these new ankle monitors in February and March.

The device, called ReliAlert XC3, allows electronic monitoring officers in criminal court and Track Group employees to contact—and record—individuals wearing the the ankle monitor. And while wearers can initiate contact with the monitoring center, they do not have the option to decline calls. 

Cook County officials and Track Group say the monitoring tool improves communication with children who are awaiting trial, but attorneys, experts and advocates call its implementation an invasion of privacy and violation of the U.S. Constitution. Black and Latinx children are more likely to be arrested than their White counterparts.

“A million alarm bells go off as a professor of criminal procedure,” Kate Weisburd, a professor at The George Washington University Law School who researches electronic monitoring across the country, told The Appeal. “I think if the police hear something incriminating on one of these, there will be litigation as to the constitutionality of [the use of] those statements.”

The article breaks down how the ReliAlert XC3 monitors work:

All calls made through the new devices are recorded, time-stamped and archived, and are stored on Track Group’s servers for 18 months, according to its contract with Cook County. Officials in Cook County have access to the files and can use them however they choose, including in the course of criminal investigations, AJ Gigler, vice president of marketing and product management at Track Group, told The Appeal.

[…]

The ReliAlert device is supposed to play an audible, three-note sound when an electronic monitoring official is calling and then play another three notes when the call ends. […] In 2014, a technician for Track Group, which was then called SecureAlert, testified during a hearing in Puerto Rico that although the device is supposed to vibrate and make a noise when it’s activated, the listening and speaking capabilities can be turned on without warning.

Track Group—the only company that provides electronic monitoring with built-in communication capabilities—holds contracts with several other U.S. jurisdictions and countries. Under its contract with Chicago, the corporation is expected to also provide 350 ReliAlert XC3 GPS devices for adult probation and 90 more for use by the sheriff’s office, The Appeal says. For each of the 275 devices used for youth, the city will pay Track Group $3.68 a day.

“I can’t quite even start down the parade of horribles in terms of all the ways this could be a problem,” Sarah Staudt, senior policy analyst and staff attorney for Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice and a former juvenile defense attorney in Cook County, told The Appeal. “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.”

Read the full article here