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Published on Friday, March 8, 2013

Cell phone emergency location bill passes quickly out of committee

HB 1897 by Rep. McCoy (D-Tulalip) would allow law enforcement to obtain phone location information from a cell phone company to find a person in an emergency situation. Basically, a cell phone company can pinpoint the location of the cell phone by “pinging” the cellular device. This action locates the cell tower closest to where the cellular device most recently sent and received a signal.

The bill is also known as Kelsey Smith Act, in reference to the tragic circumstances from which this concept stemmed. Kelsey Smith, a young woman from Kansas, was abducted from a retail store and murdered in 2007. In this case, law enforcement had trouble obtaining her cell phone location information due to the cell phone company’s concerns that sharing the information would have violated confidentiality and privacy policies.

In Washington, many law enforcement agencies have been able to work with cell phone companies to get necessary information in emergency situations. However, this bill clarifies that cell phone companies may provide this information. The bill was subject to some amendments in committee that created workability concerns. AWC worked with the bill sponsor on a proposed amendment to address those concerns. The bill is currently in the House Rules Committee.

Categories: Law & justice