AUGUSTA — A law that requires cellphone providers to give law enforcement agencies the location of a person’s cellhone in an emergency is expected to be considered in Maine next year.

Eight states have adopted a version of the law, known as Kelsey’s Law.

“I fully expect we will see some version of it introduced,” said Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Democrat on the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee and a former-co-chair of the panel. “When we see other states passing a law, we usually see a Maine version introduced.”

She said she had introduced similar legislation a few years ago, but it was not approved by the Legislature. She may introduce it again if elected to the state Senate in November.

The law is named for a Kansas teenager whose body was found four days after she was abducted in June 2007. The law is intended to make sure local police agencies can quickly get the location information they need to find people in danger.

Federal law already allows cellphone providers to give the information to local police, but Kelsey’s law makes it a mandate. There have been instances where cell companies did not immediately provide the information and waited until a law enforcement agency got a court order for the location data.

“The cellphone companies should have to turn it over,” Haskell said. “There are plenty of cases where it is critically important for law enforcement to be able to locate individuals.”

She said, for instance, if there’s a call from a person lost in the woods, police should be able to get the information quickly. She said there have been abduction cases in other states in which getting immediate access to a person’s location has saved lives.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize their cellphone is more than a phone and can be used to track where they are,” Haskell said.

Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, the co-chairman of the panel, said he is concerned about privacy if law enforcement agents are not required to get a warrant from a judge to get the information from the cellphone companies.

“What if it is not an abduction?” he said. “What if it is just somebody that doesn’t want to be found for a little bit and then you have people coming in and saying you got to give us these records? That’s a problem.”

Alysia Melnick of the Amercian Civil Liberties Union of Maine said police should not be able to get the information immediately in a situation like the one Mason described. She said the ACLU supports legislation that would require cellphone companies to immediately provide location information, but only if the police believe a person is at risk of death or serious physical harm.

“We think they should have to later file with a court the factual information to back up their claim,” she said. “There needs to be a factual basis and verification by a court of law that there was a true basis for needing the information.”

Melnick said the ACLU is concerned about privacy issues, but there are times when a person is at risk of death or serious harm that outweigh the privacy concern. She said a court review to make sure an emergency existed provides a check on police misuse of the authority.

Public Safety Commissioner John Morris said he has not reviewed the legislation that has been adopted in other states, but said Maine police have asked for and received location information from cellphone companies. In some cases, he said, a warrant was used to get the information.

“We haven’t had a problem in Maine that I am aware of,” he said.

Morris said if legislation is introduced in the January session, it will be carefully reviewed by his department.

 

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