House Committee approves “Kelsey Smith Act”

The Pennsylvania House Consumer Affairs Committee today unanimously approved a measure introduced by Senator Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny/Butler) intended to save lives by speeding up a process for using technology to locate missing people.

Senate Bill 1290 would require wireless providers to “ping” the cell phone of a missing person at the request of law enforcement officials when there is sufficient information to believe there is a risk or threat of death or serious physical harm.

The measure, also known as the “Kelsey Smith Act,” now goes to the full House of Representatives for consideration.  Senator Vulakovich’s bill is named after an 18-year old Kansas woman who was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered in 2007.  The tragedy resulted in a movement by her parents to ensure that law enforcement authorities can receive assistance from cell phone providers to help find missing persons.

“I appreciate the support of my colleagues for this important bill,” said Sen. Vulakovich.  “In cases where there is a suspected abduction, minutes are precious.  Obtaining a subpoena can take time and often delays law enforcement response to situations involving risk of death or serious injury.  This is especially true when dealing with a missing person believed to be a victim of a crime.”

Since 2005, the FCC has required cell phone manufacturers to include GPS receivers in all devices.  This has allowed first-responders to pinpoint the location of 911 callers in an emergency.  While Pennsylvania law enforcement officials can request this information from cell phone providers, in most cases a subpoena is required.  SB 1290 would expedite the process when there is the threat of imminent danger to the victim.

In addition to Kansas, thirteen states have passed similar legislation.  They are Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.


Nate Silcox
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