Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Franken’s Anti-“Stalking Apps” Bill. But It Still Won’t Pass This Year.

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 14 2012 6:26 PM

Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Franken’s Anti-“Stalking Apps” Bill. But It Still Won’t Pass This Year.

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Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Thursday, Sen. Al Franken’s Location Privacy Protection Act was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Franken’s legislation seeks to combat technology-enabled stalking by requiring that an individual give express consent before geographic data gleaned from devices like cellphones is shared with another person (though it would still be OK for parents to monitor their children’s whereabouts). Apps that are intended to help stalk would be banned.

Torie Bosch Torie Bosch

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

Furthermore, it would mandate that companies get authorization before collecting or sharing customers’ location data. Burying disclosures in the terms of service, privacy policies, and end-user agreements that none of us actually read wouldn’t suffice.

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In his remarks to the committee, Franken told the story of a Minnesota woman who went to obtain an order of protection from a stalker. Soon after she got there, she received a text from him, asking why she was in that building and whether she was trying to get a restraining order. Apparently, he had been using an app to track her. In 2006, Franken noted, Department of Justice statistics said that more than 25,000 women in the United States are stalked via GPS. That number, he believse, has surely increased with the widespread adoption of smartphones.

“Our law is not protecting location information, and our law is not protecting it the way it should.,” he said. “Our law does not clearly require a company to get your consent before getting your location information from your mobile device. Our law allows a company to legally give or sell that information to any third party other than the government. And even though current law prohibits an abuser from stalking his victim—it does not clearly prohibit a company developing and deploying stalking apps explicitly designed and intended to help abusers stalk their victims.”

When you put it that way, his legislation sounds eminently reasonable, doesn’t it? But industry, not surprisingly, would rather self-regulate. According to the Hill, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, voted in favor of the bill but is concerned that the legislation could stifle innovation. And at a hearing last year, MinnPost noted, the Association for Competitive Technology’s president complained that this sort of legislation would be particularly damaging to small-time developers.

Even Franken has admitted that the bill has approximately no chance of passing the Senate before this Congress wraps. After all, our legislators are a little tied up with the fiscal cliff discussions.  Still, this is a step forward: Franken first introduced the bill in 2011, but it never made it out of committee.

And even small movements can be monitored and recorded.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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