Named for murdered teen, possible NC law would allow live tracking of cellphones

North Carolina news

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – Would you like police to track your real-time location without a warrant? That’s exactly what a new bill in the North Carolina legislature would do. 

It would give law enforcement access to data it has never been able to access before and some say it’s all to aid in life or death situations. 

It all started back in 2007 with an 18-year-old girl named Kelsey Smith. 

She went to a Target store in Overland Park, Kansas. She was kidnapped in the parking lot of that store and was eventually taken to the woods of Missouri where she was sexually assaulted and then strangled to death.

Her body was left out in the woods for four days. 

“And we had no idea where she was,” Kelsey Smith’s dad Greg said.  

He says he could’ve known where she was if it weren’t for her cellphone carrier making her parents fight to access her location. 

“Once law enforcement finally got that location information, they located Kelsey’s body in 45 minutes. Again, imagine what would have happened if they could have got that information right away,” Greg Smith said.

Smith says though they couldn’t save Kelsey. He wants this bill passed to help save others.  

“Due to whatever the circumstances, whether it be self-inflicted from a suicide attempt, whether it be a kidnapping, whether it be somebody that was out hiking and went missing. Or someone that repeatedly goes home, but doesn’t say anything, and the family is like, ‘hey, something’s going on,’” Smith said. “Only law enforcement can make the request, only law enforcement can get this information and all they get is the location.” 

A spokesperson for North Carolina’s ACLU said she supports the bill’s goal but does have some concerns. 

“We would really strongly encourage an addition of a required after the fact review by a court as to whether there was probable cause to support that an emergency situation existed when the cellphone data was requested, and that’s really just to provide some checks and balances in the system,” ACLU Senior Policy Counsel Ann Webb said.

If House Bill 213 passes, North Carolina would be the 28th state to pass the Kelsey Smith Act. 

“My wife said, ‘well, you know what, it either takes lawsuits or legislation to get things to change,’ and we chose the legislation route and got the law passed in Kansas in 2009.” 

It’s also important to note this bill does not give police access to other data on the phone they’re tracking, not texts, not photos, not phone numbers — only the phone’s location. 

The law would make it illegal for police to use this tracking ability for anything besides emergencies.

But Smith said if you’re really concerned about privacy, you should throw out your cellphone entirely because big tech and big business are already tracking.

The proposed legislation would only allow police tracking if there was an immediate threat to your life, a kidnapping, or a similar scenario.

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