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Politics & Government

State Senate Passes 'Kelsey Smith Act'

The Pennsylvania Senate Tuesday approved a measure that could change the way law enforcement officials use cell phones to locate missing people.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny/Butler) would require wireless providers to locate the cell phones of missing people at the request of police, bypassing the subpoena process.

Vulakovich said the bill would allow police to get the information they need almost immediately.

“The way it’s done now, it’s done more or less through a subpoena process,” he said. “Sometimes that can go fairly smooth. Sometimes it can take days.”

Currently, wireless providers follow their own procedures when releasing the information of their users, but Vulakovich said his bill would standardize the process.

“They’ll all have their own policy for procedure now,” he said, “but it will have to model or at least prescribe a process that is in line with this piece of legislation.”

The Federal Communications Commission has required all cell phone manufacturers to include GPS receivers in all devices since 2005, allowing first-responders to locate 911 callers in emergency situations.

Senate Bill 1290, also known as the “Kelsey Smith Act,” is named after an 18-year-old Kansas woman who was abducted, sexually molested and murdered in 2007. Vulakovich said the bill is inspired by the woman’s parents, who believe an expedited process like this could have saved their daughter’s life.

“The tragedy resulted in a movement by her parents to ensure that law enforcement authorities could receive assistance from the cell phone providers to help find a missing person and let them act as swiftly as they can,” he said.”

The measure now goes to the House of Representatives and Vulakovich doesn’t expect any opposition.

“I think in the long-run, this type of bill will save lives and it will be a great tool for police,” he said.

14 states have passed similar legislation: Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.

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