NC lawmakers propose bill to give police access to cellphone location data

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina lawmakers want to make it easier for police to pinpoint a missing person’s location using cellphone data.

Kelsey Smith

On Thursday, state lawmakers proposed the Kelsey Smith Act. House Bill 315 is named after a Kansas teen that was abducted then raped and murdered in 2007.

Currently under North Carolina state law, law enforcement agencies have to obtain a search warrant if they want to track a cell phone’s location. The bill would remove this step and force cellphone carriers to give police phone location data if it’s believed that person is in imminent danger.

Greg Smith, the father of Kelsey Smith, hopes North Carolina can join the 22 other states that have enacted similar legislation.

“We have the technology today to be able to locate people that are in trouble,” said Smith. “These are people who would desperate love to pick up their cell phone and call 911 but for whatever reason they can’t.”

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison supports the bill, saying it would be a good tool for law enforcement. Harrison says it takes at least an hour, sometimes longer, to get approval for a search warrant in order to try to find the location of someone’s phone.

U.S. Representatives tried to make the “Kelsey Smith Act” a federal law last year but it was voted down in the House over privacy concerns.

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Susanna Birdsong, Policy Counsel with the North Carolina ACLU, says it could lead to law enforcement officials abusing the law and tracking cell phone locations in non-emergency situations.

“We totally understand the intent of the bill, especially in the particular case the law is seeking to address,” said Birdsong. “Access to that information in true emergencies is really important but the bill that is drafted in our state right now is one that needs a lot of work to address real privacy concerns.”

The “Kelsey Smith Act” was also proposed in North Carolina last year but it died in committee. Rep. Pat Hurley, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, says several changes have been made to the bill and she’s hopeful it will past this year.

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