WASHINGTON – Sen. Al Franken is trying again to pass a bill clamping down on so-called “stalking apps.”
Franken held a hearing of his Privacy, Technology and the Law panel on Wednesday to discuss the bill, an updated version of legislation he introduced last session. Franken said the bill would ban location-based apps specifically designed to allow users to stalk other people’s locations in secret, force apps to get a user’s permission before collecting their location data and require popular apps to report the data they’re collecting and who’s using it.
Franken said he was inspired to write the bill a couple years ago after hearing about stalking problems from the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, which highlighted a northern Minnesota woman whose abusive partner used a GPS-based app to track her movements at a courthouse. He cited a report that found more than 70 percent of domestic violence victim support groups had dealt with victims of stalking apps.
“In most of these cases, the perpetrator was arrested because it’s illegal to stalk someone,” he said. “But it’s not clearly illegal to make and market and sell a stalking app. And so nothing happened to the companies making money off of stalking. Nothing happened to the stalking. My bill would shut down these apps once and for all.”
Brian Hill, a detective with the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, said he has seen an “exponential” increase in the number of digital stalking investigations his office has undertaken over the last two years. He said his office averages 30 such “forensic examinations” every month.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a version of Franken’s bill in the waning days of the 2012 session with the idea of revisiting it when the new Congress took office in 2013. At the time, there were concerns over the broadness of the bill — liability issues for the app-making industry, compliance problems, etc.
Franken said he has rewritten portions of the bill to try alleviating those concerns. Sen. Jeff Flake, the ranking Republican on Franken’s subcommittee, said he still had a handful of concerns about over-regulation and threats to innovation within the new version.
Wednesday’s hearing was informational only — the full Senate Judiciary Committee would need to pass the bill again if it’s to go to the floor before the end of the year.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.