SNOHOMISH COUNTY – The power of pinging a cell phone during a crime or kidnapping is the focus of a bill in the state legislature that hits close to home for Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip.
An intruder broke in to McCoy’s home earlier this month. The thief stole his iPhone, keys and drove off with his rental car.
McCoy used his Find iPhone app to track his phone and the burglar’s every move. McCoy called police and gave them the play-by-play of where the suspect was driving on Highway 2 to Snohomish and Everett. Police eventually pulled him over and arrested the man.
“I asked the officer if he could track the cell phone. He said no. It’s against the law,” said McCoy.
Sen. McCoy tried to introduce a cell phone pinging bill, but it died last session. It’s been modified since then. Under his new bill, it would allow police to quickly track cell phone signals in case of emergencies like a kidnapping, a missing child or theft.
The Washington state constitution has strong privacy protections. Typically, police need to a warrant before they can ping a cell phone’s location.
“To have that capability without going through the process of getting a court order and all that, that takes days and we’re talking about someone that’s been taken and you want to find them quickly,” said McCoy.
Sen. McCoy plans to introduce the bill the first thing in December when lawmakers are back in Olympia.
Some privacy advocacy groups have opposed similar laws in other states. The Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has reportedly said it is not taking a position citing validity during certain emergency situations.