Reporters at WABC-TV want to know why their bosses have lately decided to track them. The station began to install Global Positioning System tracking technology in its mobile news trucks last month, and now an eye in the sky sees the trucks’ every move. It’s made the reporters wonder just what they’ve done wrong. “Let’s just say people are pretty pissed off,” said one longtime on-air Channel 7 reporter. “We were never really consulted, and the whole Big Brother aspect has us uncomfortable.” Others raised more practical concerns. “If I stop to get a slice for lunch, am I going to be timed?” asked a cameraman. “It’s just a weird feeling to know that you’re being watched all day, everywhere you go. No one wants that.” ABC isn’t unusually suspicious of its employees: Spokesmen for the local affiliates of NBC and CBS both acknowledged that they are considering similar technology for their news fleets.
Gene Maxwell, president of nabet Local 16, a union representing WABC employees, has received assurances that the tracking system will simply improve the station’s ability to deploy vehicles to breaking-news scenes, and “won’t be used for disciplinary measures.” One veteran cameraman scoffed at that rationale. “I know the streets better than any computer program, believe me,” he said. In addition to location, WABC’s chosen tracking system, AirLink, can also monitor vehicle speed and idling time. The company’s Website assures would-be clients that the technology effectively combats “unauthorized vehicle use” and results in “reduced side trips.” “It’s not like we’re out here driving to Atlantic City during lunch,” groused the cameraman. They are not grousing in isolation. Earlier this month, New York City cabbies massed to protest the installation of similar devices in their cars, arguing that the move violated their privacy rights. WABC had no comment.