Almost everybody has either heard of or uses some form of GPS. The GPS has become necessary for modern daily life, forming the basis of smartphone and in-vehicle navigation systems for millions of people globally. Initially, it was controlled by the US military and was only accessible via a descrambling system, but President Bill Clinton unscrambled the signal back in May 2000.
Brad Parkinson is the man who led the initial project to create the global positioning system over 40 years ago. He has warned that rising reliance on satellite navigation will mean the risk of damage that is caused by illegal or accidental jamming of the signals, is unacceptably high. He is also calling for the penalties for jamming GPS networks to be highly regulated and there is a need for a co-ordinated worldwide effort. Brad Parkinson said: “I’m calling for the community of nations to move to the Aussie-type penalties.”
The emeritus professor of aeronautics at Stanford University informed the Guardian newspaper; “We found a jamming system in place at Newark airport, where they were testing the latest GPS technology for the blind landing of airplanes…It involved the step of [ground-based] antennas, and unfortunately the New Jersey turnpike runs right by them. They would periodically, and always close to the same time of day, get jammed. He continued, “It took them three months to pinpoint a trucker. [He] had gone online and for less than $50 bought a little device that plugged into his cigarette lighter that he was trying to use to jam the GPS in his truck. He knew his boss was tracking him, and he was probably taking a digression to track his honey or something. But this device, its range was about a mile…That incident, what I call Newark 2, happened on the 4 August 2012. They nabbed him, they said he is apparently liable for a forfeiture, not a fine, in the amount of $31,000.” But in Australia, he said, “the impact on you would be one heck of a lot worse. In Australia, if you cause interference likely to cause prejudice to the safe conduct of a vessel it’s five years in the jug [jail] and $850k.”
GPS signals are relatively easy to jam because the signals from the orbiting satellites are weak, it is only equivalent to a 25-watt light bulb seen from the ground. The signal has to be amplified greatly, to pick it out from the background noise. A signal jammer with an output of approximately 2 watts, is able to block out the signal from the satellites from a few metres and more powerful ones will work over a few miles.
On top of increasing the penalty for owning and using GPS jammers, Parkinson argues that manufacturers of receivers need to start toughening up their devices. In the UK and Germany it is illegal to sell or use GPS jammers, however, it is legal to own or import them. One such way is by combining the GPS data with information copied from an inertial positioning system, which uses accelerometers and gyroscopes to discern how far the system has moved, in what direction and whereabouts from the last known location. “The point is if you combine all of these things, a good set should be able to fly within 1km of jammer with a 10km range,” says Parkinson. “That’s what I call toughening.” The debate remains open. What do you think? As always if you have any sensible comments regarding this story, please leave your comments in the section below.
[Image via techgon]