On March 29, court officials in Chicago strapped an ankle monitor onto Shawn, a 15-year-old awaiting trial on charges of armed robbery. They explained that the device would need to be charged for two hours a day and that it would track his movements using GPS technology. He was told he would have to be given permission to leave his house, even to go to school. But he found out that through his monitor, officers wouldn’t just be able to track his location, as most electronic monitors do. They would also be able to speak—and listen—to him.
“I feel like they are listening to what he’s saying,” said Shawn’s mother. “They can hear everything. We could be here talking about anything.”
Shawn, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is one of hundreds of children in Chicago whose ankle monitors are now equipped with microphones and speakers. The stated purpose of these devices is to communicate with the children, but they are raising concerns among civil liberties watchers that they are actually a mechanism for surveilling the conversations of these kids and those around them—and potentially for using the recordings in criminal cases.