GPS interference could turn you into an occasional terrorist

A consequence of the global rise of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and its inherent ability to track and record information is that people feel that their privacy is tight and their movements are being recorded.

This in turn creates an incentive for them to exercise the only opt-out option they have: illegal GPS interference.

Thanks to GPS, we are now connected and informed in ways that were previously impossible. It is now used for many applications it was never intended for, from smartphone apps to high-precision networks used by surveyors.

All good. However, there is evidence that GPS is falling victim to its own outrageous success.

At a recent workshop on vulnerability to GPS hosted by the University of New South Wales' Australian Center for Space Research (ACSER), Ed Williams, Director of Strategic Programs (Navigation) at Airservices Australia, gave a telling example of the problem.

In the United States, attempts to fly a GPS-based aircraft landing system have been interrupted several times by a "GPS jammer" an illegal device designed to overwhelm the GPS signal in a local area.

Powerful signal blocker with external fan interferes with GSM UMTS 4G GPS WiFi LOJACK signals

It was later found to belong to an employee of a courier company that tracked their vehicles using GPS. So what happened

It was found that for business reasons, the employee had chosen to illegally interfere with GPS signals rather than being tracked, with the inadvertent consequence of landing the plane at a nearby (and very large) airport using the GPS -Precision guidance was denied.

How do we protect GPS from this type of (unintentional) interference threat? What kind of backup systems should we have?

How should the authorities respond to this threat? And should we even draw attention to the GPS vulnerability by discussing it openly at all?

In short, there are no easy answers.

A recent report from the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK suggests that Europe is chronically overly reliant on GPS. 6-7% of european GDP (around EUR 800 billion) relies on satellite navigation in some way.

Australia is of course not immune to this phenomenon.

Based on GPS tracking of heavy vehicles, Transport Certification Australia (TCA) runs an Intelligent Access Program (IAP) to ensure that these vehicles are correctly using the roads.

Shipping and taxi companies track their vehicles for efficiency; Security companies track their vehicles for security reasons.

However, full time tracking of these vehicles inevitably means tracking their drivers who may not want their whereabouts to be tracked by their employer or anyone else.

In 2018, over a million people in the UK signed a petition against a proposal to calculate road tax based on road use measured by GPS - nominally the fairest method - but privacy concerns were too great.

Illegal jamming devices in Australia and elsewhere can be obtained online from a disgruntled, privacy-conscious person.

There are currently no civil counter-interference systems in place, so we rely on a system that is too fragile to withstand an angry public. Perhaps the audience still likes the idea that you can go to the pub at lunchtime without the boss knowing.

The danger is that GPS will be used for many important activities that cannot afford to be taken offline, e.g. B. the synchronization of communication and navigation in airplanes. Activities that only a terrorist has an incentive to interfere with.

We must take action now to avoid an environment that prevents the boss from knowing you had a pub lunch, from becoming an occasional terrorist.