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Cell-Tracking Bills Require Info Dump for Missing Persons
Mobile phone companies would have to immediately turn over location data to emergency responders to help them quickly track missing persons, if any one of the four bills floating in the House get traction.
The law already allows, but does not automatically require, phone companies to turn over ping data from cell towers in emergency situations absent court warrants. The proposals would require telcos to promptly hand over the information if authorities tell them that harm or death are imminent.
At first glance, one might think the bills are a slippery slope toward requiring telcos to release such information during any criminal investigation, even when there is no pending emergency. But the Obama administration has jumped feet first into that slippery slope, and is seeking such information, without a court warrant, in a pending drug case.
The latest measures, which are basically the same to a varying degree, are in response to the Kelsey Smith murder in 2007. The 18-year-old girl of Kansas was kidnapped in 2007 and her body was found four days later in a nearby wooded area. She was discovered 45 minutes after Verizon released ping data from her cell phone, after days of haggling between Verizon and the authorities over whether the company must provide the information.
The proposals all are named in honor of the dead girl and are being pitched by Kansas representatives. The measures require disclosure of cell phone tower locations a phone has pinged, and do not include requirements that the company turn over call records or wiretap the phone.
Cell phone tower data does not pinpoint the location of a mobile phone like GPS data does, but does usually indicate which side of the tower the signal is coming from and how strong it is based on “pings” sent when a handset checks in with the nearest tower or towers.
Susan Freiwald, a University of San Francisco School of Law privacy scholar, said the legislation makes sense. “It’s not a bad idea to clarify that in an emergency situation, providers should disclose this,” she said. In non-emergency situations, she said, a warrant should be required — a topic of one of her recent papers.
The leading measures by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kansas) are similar to Kansas state legislation approved this year. Kansas is now the only state that requires mobile phone operators to immediately hand over cell tower ping information if the authorities assert that victims are facing imminent harm or death.
“It is an honor to have such an important piece of legislation that will save lives with Kelsey’s name on it. We continue to be amazed about the impact she has had on people here in Kansas and across the country,” said Kelsey’s father, Greg Smith.
The Kelsey Smith Act would “require a provider of a commercial mobile service or an IP-enabled voice service to provide call location information concerning the user of such a service to law enforcement agencies in order to respond to a call for emergency services or in an emergency situation that involves risk of death or serious physical harm,” according to the bill text.
Another bill, by Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kansas) requires the government to train law enforcement officials “with respect to the collection and use of call location information for emergency situations.” A fourth bill by Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) is almost exclusively dedicated to training the police on how to communicate with telephone carriers in emergency situations.
�It is an honor to have such an important piece of legislation that will save lives with Kelsey�s name on it. We continue to be amazed about the impact she has had on people here in Kansas and across the country,� said Kelsey�s father, Greg Smith.
This reminds me in a way of the beginning of I Am Legend with the doctor who makes the virus curing cancer that ends the world. Sometimes good intentions can have unforeseeable (not quite in this case) consequences.
-------------------- So, smoking pot = "child endangerment." Storming a home with guns, then firing bullets into the family pets as a child looks on = necessary police procedures to ensure everyone's safety. -Radley Balko