60-years-old Tom Colella who works as an electrician for Aroona Alliance, a Western Australia water management venture, is making headlines across the globe after being fired. Colella’s employer uses GPS tracking to know whereabouts of its employees during working hours when they are out doing fieldwork. The company provided the employees with GPS-enabled PDA devices.
He emptied snack packet coated with aluminum foil and mylar plastic on the inside and placed the PDA device in there.
Aluminum foil reflects away (blocks) electromagnetic waves, simple physics! With the PDA device inside the snack packet, it could not communicate with GPS satellite and relay the location of Colella. From the Aroona Alliance control center, Colella appeared to be working offline and untraceable on the map.
However, instead of working on his designated duties during his ‘time offline,’ Colella went to the golf course to play. After having some fun out there playing golf, Colella would take out his phone from the snack packet, and immediately appear online and traceable. He then went to tell the company he was working all along during the offline and untraceable moments.
Aroona later came to learn of tricks used by Colella to appear offline, and that he went out for recreation activity during the company’s time. Consequently, the company resolved to fire Tom Colella. Later, the case found its way into the chambers of the labor grievance commission, the Australia Fair Work commission.
The Australia Fair Work Commissioner, Bernie Riordan making a ruling upholding the dismissal of Colella. The ruling by Riodan reads in part:
“I have taken into account that Mr Colella openly stored his PDA device in an empty foil ‘Twisties’ bag. As an experienced electrician, Mr Colella know that this bag would work as a faraday cage, thereby preventing the PDA from working properly – especially the provision of regular GPS co-ordinate updates…
Mr Colella went out of his way to hide his whereabouts. He was concerned about Aroona tracking him when the Company introduced the PDA into the workplace. He protested about Aroon having this information at that time. Mr. Colella then went out of his way to inhibit the functionality of the PDA by placing it in a foil bag to create a faraday cage.”
Colella improvised an empty snack packet of Smith’s Twisties with aluminum foil on the inside and turned it into a Faraday cage blocking GPS tracking until when and where he wanted it to operate.
“Mr. Colella’s supervisors knew that he placed his PDA in the foil bag and… should have known the effect that this action would have on the PDA device. I cannot understand why Aroona condoned this practice, but it clearly shows that Mr. Colella did not want to be tracked.” Added Riordan.
The name Faraday cage comes from Michael Faraday who pioneered the study into properties that block electromagnetic waves. A Faraday device blocks electromagnetic waves from passing through it, while a Faraday cage like in this instance blocks the waves from travelling through it. Instead it channels the electromagnetic waves around it; and the cage (inside) remain free of the electromagnetic waves.
The radio signals (waves) being received by a PDA device from satellites above are already weak for public safety and can be easily interfered with (intentionally or unintentionally). By placing the PDA inside the snack packet, Colella was effectively shutting down all radio communication between the device and satellite above.
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