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Former Wrentham Resident Involved in Legal Conference Concerning Geospatial Tracking

Executive director of the Centre for Spatial Law and Policy, Kevin Pomfret talks about the legal ramifications of using geospatial data.

The Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University is gearing up to discuss legal ramifications for geospatial technology, which recently aided in identifying and apprehending the two suspects in the Boston Marathon Bombings.

Former Wrentham resident Kevin Pomfret is the executive director of the Centre for Spatial Law and Policy. He said the main thrust of the geospatial technology is using a combination of elements to achieve a goal, whether it is for private industry, personal use, civil engineering or law enforcement.

“Individuals use it to find directions downtown, the government use it to plan a road or where to put the next school,” he said. “There is a variety of different data and ways it could be used.”

In regards to the identification and discovery of suspects, Pomfret said this technology could be used in many different ways. Law enforcement officers used security camera footage, cell phone GPS data combined with time stamped photos and video, credit card usage and aerial visual imaging.

“You could almost see laying out a bunch of Polaroid photos and figuring out how things happened,” he said.

Pomfret said the legal ramifications of the use of such data by private companies or the government brings up possible conflicts with the Fourth Amendment, which deals with a public citizen’s right to unreasonable search and seizure.

Pomfret referred to a recent Supreme Court decision stating law enforcement officials could not place a tracking device on a suspect’s vehicle to track their movements on public roadways.

“In the past law enforcement had been allowed to put a tracking device on an automobile and track movements in cities and public roads,” he said. “The Supreme Court decision ruled that the attaching of such a device violated the fourth amendment rights of an individual, even if they are driving in public roadways. In that particular case the putting of the device on the car was a trespass.”

Pomfret said the conference, scheduled for May 2 and 3 this year, would address these kinds of legal issues.

“It’s going to address some of the importance of this, with regards of collection, use and transfer of geospatial information, and these issues include privacy and intellectual property rights,” he said. “It’s looking at legal and policy issues for a location-enabled society. We can use this technology to track or identify suspects.”

Pomfret added the conference is designed to not only advance the uses of these types of technology, but protect constitutional rights associated with the technology.

“[The conference looks at] how would you put a legal policy framework in place that supports this but at the same time protects people’s civil liberties, protects people’s ownership and data that they expect, those sorts of things,” he said. “This is sort of a conference that looks at these issues, it’s been in the planning stage for a good number of months now. It’s got experts from around the United States, including Google.”

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