Taking Liberties: Cab driver isn't paranoid, the government IS watching him

But privacy advocates are concerned


Just because taxi driver Andre Olczak believes he’s being watched, doesn’t mean he’s paranoid 

In fact, he’s not only being watched,  he’s being monitored every second while he’s at work.

“It’s terrible,” he says as he drives his yellow cab on W. 48th St. in midtown Manhattan.

“They are constantly watching me.”

"They" are the TLC, or Taxi and Limousine Commission, the government body that licenses taxi drivers in New York City.  In 2007, the TLC required all cabbies to install GPS or Global Positioning System devices to monitor their locations, speed and meters while they’re driving.

Olczak points out he came to the United States to escape the Communist regime in Poland.

“I came for freedom,” he says. “But this looks like Poland before [communism fell]."

Some cabbies are now challenging the monitoring device  in court, saying it violates the Constitution.

"The Supreme Court has recently decided the state can't put a device in your car and use it to follow you around,” says Dan Ackman, an attorney for the taxi drivers. In January, the Supreme Court ruled Police violated the Constitution by placing GPS monitoring devices on cars of suspects without a court order.

“We are basically pursuing the same claim in a state court based on the Fourth Amendment,” explained Ackman.

The TLC has vigorously defended the practice, even after the Supreme Court ruling.

“The courts have long recognized that Fourth Amendment privacy protections are not applicable to certain highly regulated industries, such as the pawn shop and taxi industries,” New York City Law Department Senior Counsel Diana Murray  wrote in response to inquiries from a court website.

“TLC only receives GPS data from taxicabs when the driver is on-duty -- not when the driver is off-duty. Also, except for credit and debit card information, data collected from the GPS devices reflects exactly the same information that cab drivers have long been required to document in handwritten trip sheets.”

Indeed, other industries like trucking, transit and telecommunications also use GPS to track workers, and municipal attorney Jeff Gold calls that “a good thing,” even if it’s the government that’s doing the monitoring.

“The fact of the matter is if the government can figure out ways to increase our public safety by using technology it ought to do that,”says Gold.

Gold, who is also a search and seizure expert, says it’s all about public safety..

“It's about public safety because cabbies run our streets in New York City. We ought to be able to monitor how fast they are going, what routes they are taking.”

He says it will increase the sense of security all around.

“There will be less accidents. It will be better for consumers”

“Nonsense,” says Ackman. “This has nothing to do with public safety.”

He says the device can only tell you where a driver has been and how fast he’s been going.

“A GPS device on your car doesn’t prevent you from crashing your car,” he says. “It doesn’t stop [you] from getting in an accident and it doesn't stop [you] from speeding.”

He points out that most cabbies in New York are immigrants.

“They are picking on people who have no idea what their constitutional rights are. But once they do it to them, I guarantee they will then do it to all of us.”

Olczak agrees. “I came to America because I want the government to leave me alone. But they don’t leave you alone.”

Douglas Kennedy currently serves as a correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1996 and is based in New York.