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The Wikipedia article Human rights in Saudi Arabia#Women's rights cites an article from The Peninsula. The article is no longer available, but the claims Wikipedia sources thus are (emphasis mine):

In April 2010, a new, optional ID card for women was issued which allows them to travel in countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The cards include GPS tracking, fingerprints and features that make them difficult to forge.

Similarly, a 2012 article from the Times of India:

Kozhikode school introduces GPS ID for students.

The contents of the article appears to imply the cards transmit position information, although on closer inspection it seems the cards are merely used to check in to the school and school bus, which then sends position information. Considering that the article describes Alerts are sent to the school's GPS server, it appears the author does not know what GPS is.

Thirdly, Chinese Seeworld Technology sells what they claim is a Wireless student card ID card GPS tracker.

I am skeptical of the existence of such a technology small enough to fit on a card. Actual GPS tracking devices such as SPOT appear far too bulky to fit on an ID card, and even GPS receivers that use GSM or GPRS to transmit positioning information, such as this Mini Global GPS Tracker, needs (of course) batteries too bulky for an ID card.

Is there such a thing as a GPS tracker that fits on an ID card, or are the sources I quote above all confused or tin foil hat bonkers?

  • A big part of the problem is that it's really not clear exactly what capabilities you, or the writers, are talking about when you say "tracking". Determining a position continuously, or on demand? Storing it? Transmitting it wirelessly to somewhere? Over distances of miles or inches? – Nate Eldredge Oct 7 '15 at 14:53
  • A GPS receiver can certainly be fitted in a credit card profile: cambridgeconsultants.com/projects/worlds-thinnest-gps-receiver – Vicky Oct 7 '15 at 15:18
  • @NateEldredge In my understanding, the claims suggest the cards make it possible to determine a position remotely (on demand). – gerrit Oct 7 '15 at 15:26
  • @Vicky Interesting. But the GPS receiver is only one end of the story. How would it transmit the location? – gerrit Oct 7 '15 at 15:32
  • @gerrit indeed. Transmit -> more power -> more battery. I wouldn't like to say it's NOT possible, though - if it's not do-able today it's very very close. – Vicky Oct 7 '15 at 15:38
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The referred source claims that the ID card for the school's students combines radio frequency identification (RFID) and GPS technologies. There are currently no known consumer GPS receivers (fitting on a chip/ID card) that can receive a remote signal and respond with its position (transmitting location) to an outside receiver. The market available RFID GPS integrated hybrids work for asset management and logistics.

GPS has also been integrated into RFID readers, in some cases, to provide information regarding where a tag has been interrogated. Ameya Logistics, for example, outfitted mobile cranes—known as reach stackers—with a device from C&B Electronics that incorporates an RFID reader, a GPS unit and a GPRS radio. This enables the company to know the exact location where a container was placed within a very large yard.

There are RFID chip ID cards available in the market based on RFID tags. RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification, and it provides identifying information on a tag that may both receive and transmit information at radio frequencies.

There are three types of RFID tags: active tags, which contain a battery and are constantly transmitting some sort of data such as vital signs, passive tags, which require external source such as a scanner to create a signal in a device without battery, and then battery assisted passive, which function as something of a hybrid of the two in that an external source is required to activate the battery functions.

RFID is terrestrial-based and also consists of two components: the RFID tag and the RFID reader. The reader can only read the tags when they are in close proximity, usually within a few feet or yards. Once the reader reads the tag, it sends the information to a database.

The process of tracking by a combination of RFID and GPS technologies mentioned here and here can be explained as follows:

  1. Buses or schools are equipped with RFID/GPS Integrated Special Readers.
  2. In case of buses, once routes are mapped individual children details are added to each route under Drop & Pick up points and there could be multiple Pick Up & Drop at the same Route points.
  3. When students board or alight the buses, their ID cards will be read by the GPS card readers installed on the school bus doors and on entrance to the school. Alerts are sent to the school’s GPS server that automatically sends an update to parents as SMS.
  4. SMS alerts are set up using the database system identifying each child's attendance, including Date & Time for Record on boarding the bus, entrance and these alerts are linked to an emergency-SOS feature and to school attendance. So if the bus arrival or departure is delayed, the child should not be marked late when compared with the system.
  5. The parents or the guardians of the children are alerted on arrival at school and on return. In case of delay at any point, subsequent pick up/drop contacts are alerted along with a alert to the administration and records are saved in the system.
  6. The school administration can also track the real-time and historical location of the bus on a detailed map and get over-speeding alerts.

Global positioning system (GPS) uses radio waves to transmit data using the global positioning system of 24 satellites. Radio waves sent out from this system of satellites transmit their time and orbital data to receivers down on Earth. Using the data from multiple satellites, receivers can then triangulate their position relative to the satellites, and thus on the Earth's surface. Older GPS receivers have been no smaller than two D-cell batteries and newer models smaller than a dime are present in the market.

GPS is satellite-based and consists of two components: The network of satellites circling the Earth and the GPS receiver. The GPS receiver has its own onboard computing capabilities used to receive signals from the satellites and determine its own location based on those signals; it then relays that information to the navigator. GPS receivers must have an antenna or be exposed to the sky in order to receive signals from multiple satellites. The problem with GPS is that attaching a bulky receiver that's capable of transmitting its location would be cost prohibitive.

Per Lori Bowen Ayre in 2013,

Here are cell phones and smartphones which use another form of radio wave technology. 3G (and 4G) are marketing-speak for the different telecommunications networks. These networks can carry both data and voice signals over radio wave signals. Your cell phone communicates with the nearest cell tower that matches the telecommunications network of your provider. Because you are personally linked to your cell phone which is communicating with cell towers, your cell phone is essentially locating you personally.

If your phone is equipped with a GIS receiver, you are now trackable to within a few feet. Remember the job of the GIS receiver is to pinpoint its location, via satellite, at all times. So if you keep your GIS app running, that information is in your smartphone. And this is where it gets interesting. If you add Internet access to your smartphone, you’ve added the ability to communicate all these disparate pieces of data about you and your location.

Security concerns of using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in passports are discussed here and Mike Rothman also states "But I'm not aware of RFID implants that have GPS tracking capabilities, so it's not clear that this approach would meet such requirements - unless these "dangerous areas" have RFID readers every 30 feet or so."

  • There are currently no known consumer GPS receivers that can receive a remote signal and respond with its position to an outside receiver. — do you mean none at all, or none that fit on a chip/ID card? – gerrit Oct 7 '15 at 11:30
  • @Gerrit-None that fit on a chip/ID card and the existing hybrids also need RFID readers installed for tracking through whatever distance travelled. – pericles316 Oct 7 '15 at 11:37
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    "The GPS receiver can be no smaller than two D-cell batteries..." What? This may have been true many years ago, but the receivers inside things like smartphones are obviously much smaller than that. You can even find some varieties smaller than a dime, weighing about a gram: lotek.com/pinpoint-gps.htm – Is Begot Oct 7 '15 at 13:49
  • @Geobits-Thanks and modified the answer accordingly per your latest research! – pericles316 Oct 8 '15 at 4:41
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Maybe it's useful to point here a common misconception about GPS, even if it was not done in the present question and answers: many people - and medias - tend to think that "GPS satellites can track you". GPS transmission is only one way (see reference): devices listen satellites to find their position, not the other way (beside, they would need huge energy to transmit up to satellites), contrarily to the Argos system for finding boats for instance. At this stage, with a small GPS receiver and a source of energy, the device can know its position.

Now, the point is about "tracking": as said in the long answer, there are 2 possibility: re-emitting the information immediately (e.g. via GSM), which requires a good source of energy, or storing the series information for low-energy transmission later (e.g. via RFID, wired plug-in, bluetooth, etc). Today, the energy for active distant transmission (e.g. GSM) is not compatible with miniaturization in an ID card. The passive and thus delayed transmission is more doable, but then it's important to figure out that the possible "tracking" is way more constrained (nobody can know at any moment where you are).

Finally, the model proposed here sounds like uselessly complicated: nowadays everybody has a cell phone, with GPS, GSM,bluetooth, energy + storage capability, so it would be way more easy to set up a virus or malware on it. Or to use parts of these resources to help the job of an external "marked" device.

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    Hello Fabrice, and welcome to Skeptics! Your answer is useful but on this site in particular, we like to have everything backed up by (preferably authoritative) sources. I'm quite sure that the contents of your post are correct, could you add some sources to it so that it's a good fit for Skeptics SE? – gerrit Oct 8 '15 at 13:52
  • I understand, but when it's about such generalities like GPS + basic logic, what can I source ? -> I added a wikipedia ref on how GPS works. Is it enough ? – Fabrice NEYRET Oct 8 '15 at 13:57
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    Even the operation of a GPS receiver (and not the transmission of data) require a significant amount of energy, which must come from an energy source, which won't fit in an id card using known technology. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 8 '15 at 14:49
  • You might use induction (as for RFID), or solar, or some "human-extracted". I'm not sure it's enough for GPS, but at least it a lot less than for emitting. – Fabrice NEYRET Oct 8 '15 at 15:02
  • Human power (as in a self-winding watch) is definitely not enough. Nor is radiatively coupled (far field) RFID. Inductively coupled (near field) RFID might do, but only works within inches of a receiver. Solar likely needs more area than an ID card has, and of course it would have to be carried in the open to work. – hobbs Oct 10 '15 at 16:06

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