Bill setting 5-year prison sentence for tech-assistant stalkers cleared for House floor vote

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle back the bill.

Sunshine State stalkers who use mobile apps and small, Bluetooth-enabled devices like AirTags to track their victims could face five-year prison sentences under legislation now heading to a full House vote.

Judging from the support the bill received in its three committee stops, it’s a shoo-in to pass.

Titled “Tracking Devices and Applications,” the measure (HB 401) would significantly hike criminal punishments for installing or placing a tracking device or app on another person’s property without their consent.

Doing it today is a second-degree misdemeanor conferring a maximum 60-day jail stint. HB 401, sponsored by Palm City Republican Rep. Toby Overdorf, would increase the penalty thirtyfold by making the crime a third-degree felony.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the chamber floor.

The measure also received uniform backing in its two prior House committee stops. Its companion in the Senate (SB 758) sponsored by Fort Myers Republican Sen. Jonathan Martin, also has yet to see a single “no” vote.

Several members of the Republican Liberty Caucus signaled support for the legislation Wednesday.

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. This month, a federal judge said he believes the tech company was likely negligent in its design and oversight of the product.

AirTags debuted in 2021 and cost $29 apiece. They are the size of a half-dollar coin and offer “unparalleled accuracy, ease of use, and affordability,” Apple said. In many cases, they require no installation.

Comparable products in the market include Tile, Chipolo, Cube and Samsung’s SmartTag.

Apple marketed AirTags 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 follow their victims.

In 2022, a police officer in Miami-Dade County was charged with using an AirTag to stalk his ex-girlfriend.

Apple announced plans in May to team up with Google to thwart unwanted tracking.

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.


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