Senate takes step toward banning stalking software

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 13, 2012 at 6:53 pm •  Published: December 13, 2012
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Franken's bill is a common-sense step to curb stalking and domestic violence by taking away a tool that gives one person power over another, victims advocacy groups said.

"It's really, really troubling that an industry would see an opportunity to make money off of strengthening someone's opportunity to control and threaten another individual," said Karen Jarmoc, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Franken's bill would make companies subject to civil liability if they fail to secure permission before obtaining location information from a person's cellphone and sharing it with anyone else. They also would be liable if they fail to tell a user no later than seven days after the service begins that the program is running on their phone. Companies would face a criminal penalty if they knowingly operate an app with the intent to facilitate stalking.

The bill includes an exception to the permission requirement for parents who want to place tracking software on the cellphones of minor children without them being aware it is there.

A domestic violence case in St. Louis County, Minn., helped persuade Franken to introduce his bill. A woman had entered a county building to meet with her advocate when she received a text message from her abuser asking her why she was there, according to congressional testimony delivered last year by the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Frightened, she and her advocate went to the local courthouse to file for a protective order. She got another text demanding to know why she was at the courthouse. They later determined her abuser was tracing her movements with an app that had been placed on her cellphone. The woman was not identified by name in the congressional testimony.

Franken said that while doing research for the bill, he heard similar stories from women in Iowa, Wisconsin, Arizona and several other states.

An organization representing software companies opposes Franken's bill because it said the user consent requirement would curb innovation in the private sector without adequately addressing the problem of cyberstalking. Voluntary but enforceable codes of conduct for the industry are more effective methods for increasing transparency and consumer confidence, said David LeDuc, senior director for public policy at the Software & Information Industry Association.

Those concerns resonated with the Judiciary Committee's top Republican and one of its senior Democrats. The bill could have unintended consequences for an industry that is growing and creating new jobs, said Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Both senators voted for the bill, however.

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Online:

Senate Judiciary Committee: http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/



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