An Ontario man says he's angry and frightened after discovering someone hid a GPS tracking device under his vehicle, apparently to secretly monitor his movements.
“I was doing just a regular inspection on my truck and I found this black box under my truck … with flashing lights inside,” Ben Ferrill of Warsaw, Ont., told Go Public. “I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know if it was a bomb. We were scared to death … It felt like a movie — unreal.”
After making the discovery last fall he reported it the next morning to the Ontario Provincial Police. Ferrill said the OPP tried to find out whom the device belonged to to lay a mischief charge, but were stymied in their investigation.
“I feel powerless. I can’t do anything about it and I really wish the police did more. I really wish they would do more — and I’m upset,” Ferrill said.
Ferrill said he and his wife haven’t been able to sleep properly since, because they are worried someone is watching them.
“We spent lots of nights up until three in the morning crying and talking about it — not sleeping and looking out the windows and being suspicious of vehicles that drive by,” Ferrill said. “Are they following me? Are they watching me? Are they going to try to do something to me? Are they going to try to do something to our family? The fear in finding something like that is unreal.”
Ferrill’s lawyer, Ian Wilson, said is illegal to put a tracking device on someone else’s vehicle without their knowledge or consent unless there is a search warrant.
“The trouble is, we don’t know who is behind this,” Wilson said.
The device Ferrill found, Wilson said, was sold by an American company, U.S. Fleet Tracking, which sells GPS systems to companies that want to track their fleet vehicles.
The OPP obtained a production order, compelling the Canadian company that provides the wireless connection, Kore Wireless, to disclose whose device it is. However, Kore said it didn’t have that information.
“I’ve [also] tried to get answers from Kore Wireless and their lawyer but they will tell me nothing,” Wilson said.
Kore Wireless president Alex Brisbourne told CBC News his company only provides "connectivity. We don’t know who the end user is.”
He said U.S. Fleet bills the customer and gives access to its website, where the customer can track its fleet vehicles in real time.
“Our customer [U.S. Fleet] is in the United States. They have no responsibility or accountability to provide that information [to Canadian police],” Brisbourne said.
When asked whether he requested the customer information from U.S. Fleet in this case, Brisbourne replied it "is not appropriate for us to ask for that. Security of information is particularly critical.”
U.S. Fleet’s website makes it clear the company does not give up information easily, even to American authorities.
“U.S. Fleet Tracking will not under any circumstance make your information or any data specific to your vehicle tracking account available to any third party — including local, state or federal law enforcement authorities … Even if presented with a court order, we promise to fight the courts to keep this information private and respect the privacy of our paying customers,” the website reads.
Wilson and Ferrill said the OPP told them it would be too expensive and time-consuming to pursue the case through U.S. courts. The OPP told CBC News the file is now closed.
Ferrill insisted the device could not have been put there by his wife or any family member. In addition, U.S. Fleet sells to to businesses, not individuals.
He said the only dispute he is involved in is with his former employer, a car dealership in Peterborough, Ont.
Ferrill worked for a decade as a mechanic for Holiday Ford Lincoln. Two years ago, he injured his shoulder on the job. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) in Ontario said he needed to be on light, restricted duty for several months.
After a few months, Holiday Ford fired him for allegedly stealing a bottle of windshield washer fluid.
A WSIB investigation found it was a pretext – that Ferrill had been fired because he was injured, which is a violation of the law. The WSIB report concluded: “A breach of their re-employment obligation has occurred.”
Holiday Ford is appealing that decision, but it faces significant fines if the ruling stands. It is also facing a wrongful-dismissal lawsuit filed by Ferrill.
The company has denied Ferrill's allegations in court filings.
Ferrill said he discovered the GPS device a few months after filing his lawsuit. He and his lawyer said they suspect the dealership could be involved, but they have no way of proving or disproving that.
CBC News left several messages with Ferrill’s former manager at Holiday Ford, but received no reply.
He has no idea how long it was there, and said the combined stress has pushed his family to the edge.
“Losing my job was really stressful, and then this is just a part of more stress,” Ferrill said. “It’s really testing our family. It’s the most stress and discomfort we have ever had.”
Ferrill and his lawyer want Canadians to realize how technology can now be used against them and — at least in this case —there is no recourse.
“It’s extremely frustrating to know that [customer] information exists in the U.S. somewhere … and we simply can’t get at it,” Wilson said. “[Ferrill] hasn’t had any peace of mind for the last 2½ years since he lost his job.”
Wilson said he finds it ironic this is happening to his client at the same time the federal government is talking about allowing police to monitor people’s internet use without a warrant.
“The same federal government that is responsible for this crime bill is also responsible for these wireless companies,” Wilson said.
He said he believes wireless companies in Canada should be required by law to know who the end users of the technology are: “This is a changing environment and steps have to be taken to protect people.”
“We want to know who put this on our truck and why,” Ferrill said. “I’m sure whoever did this wants to do some type of harm to me, because whoever did this wants to know what I am doing all the time and wants to follow me for some reason.”