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Dorothy Hukill aims to shoot down GPS tracking

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New media technologies are forcing privacy advocates to redefine privacy. State Sen. Dorothy Hukill is the point person in the Legislature this session for people wanting to be let alone.

Her drone bill swats restrictions on mini-flying robots equipped with video cameras like Seiko’s soon-to-be-released 0.4-ounce bug-size helicopter.

That bill is now sitting in Appropriations.

On Monday Hukill struck another blow for privacy with a measure restricting the use of GPS devices. There are more than 25 global positioning satellites circling the earth and more than half of Americans have iPhones capable of communicating with the orbiting data collectors.

Parents find GPS devices help them monitor their teenagers’ coming and goings. Employers use it to improve customer service such as deliveries and to save money on fuel and make sure employees don’t leave work early.

Hukill though told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that GPS tracking also has dark side. She explained GPS tracking devices placed on a vehicle played a role in two murder cases in other states and of several instances of violence and domestic abuse.

“These devices are very cheap. We went on the Internet today and you can buy one little device that’s attached with a magnet; you can put it under the wheel well (of a vehicle) and it cost $14.27. And you can track with your iPhone,” Hukill told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “This is a serious issue we must face.”

Such easily accessible surveillance technology has sparked a national debate about privacy in the digital age. The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned convictions when police attached devices like Hukill described to a suspect’s car. Law enforcement should have gotten a warrant since attaching a device to an auto was “an intrusive” act.

But only California seems to have a law similar to the one Hukill is proposing, while a case in Missouri challenges an employer’s right to track a worker without notifying the employee.

Hukill would make it a second-degree misdemeanor for anyone to track the movements of another with a device or software without the person’s permission. Her proposal provides exemptions for a parent or legal guardian of a minor whose location is being tracked, the guardian of an elderly or disabled adult and for law enforcement.

The Criminal Justice Committee cleared it with a unanimous vote.

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