Bill cracking down on tech-assisted stalking, AirTag misuse clears second House hurdle
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 2/6/23-Rep. Toby Overdorf, R-Palm City, during a news conference on IRS overreach, Monday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

‘Technology continues to advance and with that, unfortunately, (so) does nefarious behavior.’

A bill that would heighten punishments for people who use technology to track others without their consent breezed through its second stop in the House with little criticism and no opposition.

If passed, the measure (HB 401) would make installing a tracking device or application on another person’s car or cellphone a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines.

The infraction today is a second-degree misdemeanor carrying, at most, a 60-day jail sentence and $500 penalty.

“Technology continues to advance and with that, unfortunately, (so) does nefarious behavior,” said Palm City Republican Rep. Toby Overdorf, the measure’s sponsor.

HB 401 and a similar companion (SB 758) by Fort Myers Republican Sen. John Martin would also amend a 2015 law to address Apple AirTags, Samsung SmartTags and other small tracking devices that seldom require installation. The legislation would ban placing such devices on another person or their property without their knowledge, a restriction not clearly stated in the law now.

On Wednesday, the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee voted unanimously to advance HB 401 after a short round of questions from the panel’s members.

In one such query, Davie Democratic Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a criminal defense lawyer, asked how the measure would apply to tech companies that install tracking apps on a person’s phone or car companies that do so in vehicles.

Overdorf said the bill’s provisions would apply if a company used the tracking information to commit a crime against the person, but noted that mobile device users and car owners frequently consent to being tracked to some extent when agreeing to a product’s terms and conditions.

“If a third party wants to access that material and then utilize that to track (you), that third party under this bill would face a felony,” he said.

Overdorf filed his measure in November as the number of plaintiffs suing Apple for failing to prevent stalkers from abusing its popular and relatively cheap AirTag product rose to 38.

AirTags, which debuted in 2021, cost $29 apiece, are about the same size of a half-dollar coin and offer “unparalleled accuracy, ease of use, and affordability.” In many cases, they require no installation. They’re marketed as handy devices to find personal belongings like car keys, using the locational service of an iPhone or digital device, not GPS, for tracking.

All those attributes have made them the “weapon of choice of stalkers and abusers,” the 41-page complaint filed Dec. 5 in California says.

The filing cites at least two murders in which the culprit used an AirTag to track their victims.

In 2022, a police officer in Miami-Dade County was charged with using an AirTag to stalk his ex-girlfriend. A police report said he would text her to say he knew where she was or just show up.

Stuart Kaplan, a lawyer and former FBI agent, told CBS Miami, “It’s not unheard of. It happens more often than not.”

Apple announced in May it was teaming up with Google to thwart unwanted tracking through Bluetooth devices from being used for creepy purposes.

HB 401 is next slated to go before the House Judiciary Committee, after which it would go to a floor vote. SB 758, which cleared the Senate Criminal Justice Committee 8-0 on Wednesday, has two more committee stops.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Dont Say FLA

    January 11, 2024 at 3:55 pm

    Will this apply to corporations like OnStar that put their spy trackers in our cars and track all of us everywhere we drive even though most people don’t subscribe to OnStar and don’t want OnStar tracking everywhere they drive and also selling that information to the bidder?

    Will it apply to tag scanners on the PoPo cars? They got no business tracking where we drive.

    How about Google? Google is everywhere.

    Will it apply to Elon Musk and his surveillance systems such as Teslas that spy on random people in public and Tesla owners in their garages?

    Verizon? T-Mobile? etc etc etc etc

    Remember, legislators, “corporations are people” which means your laws will apply to their tracking.

Comments are closed.


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