By James Brooks
Alaska Beacon 

House legislation would allow use of more cell photo data in search of lost people

 

March 27, 2024



Under legislation passed March 21 by the Alaska House of Representatives, police searching for a lost hiker could obtain cell phone and satellite phone location data without a warrant.

The House approved House Bill 316 by a 38-1 margin after moving it forward with unusual speed. The Senate has referred the bill to committee for discussion. The Legislature faces a mid-May adjournment deadline.

The measure is modeled after similar laws in other states and is known as the “Kelsey Smith Act.”

Smith was an 18-year-old who was abducted and murdered in Kansas in 2007, and her family has since advocated legislation that would allow law enforcement to more quickly locate a missing person in an emergency.

Under HB 316, a communications company must provide the location of a phone to a law enforcement agency or dispatch center upon written request if the agency believes the phone is with a person experiencing an “ongoing emergency that involves the risk of death or serious physical harm.”

“This is a piece of legislation that I hope is never used,” said Anchorage Rep. Craig Johnson, who sponsored it.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, and some other lawmakers said the bill raises concerns about civil liberties. There might be some people who don’t want the government to be able to track them, he said.

After some lawmakers raised the possibility that the request system could be abused, the House amended the bill to make misuse a misdemeanor.

In an emotional speech, House Majority Leader Dan Saddler, of Eagle River, said the bill is personal to him. He has a son with autism, and he worries about what might happen if his son wanders away. “This is a bill about real people. It’s not theoretical. It’s not about how many civil liberties can dance on the head of a pin,” he said.

“It’s not theoretical, it’s about ways to save lives,” Saddler said.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization. Alaskabeacon.com.

 

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