Lesniak Bill Requiring Telecommunications Companies To Cooperate With Law Enforcement In Emergencies Advances

Bill Would Require Caller Location Info Be Provided In Certain Cases

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Raymond J. Lesniak which would require telecommunications companies to provide caller location information for crime victims to law enforcement agencies was unanimously approved by the Senate Law, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs Committee today.

“Law enforcement officers need to be able to use every tool at their disposal to help them solve crimes and protect innocent victims from physical harm,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “By requiring telecommunications companies to cooperate with law enforcement agencies and provide location information for mobile devices, we can hopefully apprehend criminals before they victimize someone else. This bill will revolutionize police investigations and hopefully allow law enforcement officers to act before it’s too late for people in harm’s way.”

The bill, S-2841, would amend the State’s wiretapping statute to require cell phone carriers and mobile broadband providers to disclose location information regarding a crime victim’s mobile or wireless communications device under certain circumstances. Under the bill, the location information would be disclosed if the law enforcement agency has obtained a warrant, the consent of the subscriber or customer, a court order, or if the agency believes in good faith that the victim might be in danger of death or serious bodily harm if the information is delayed. The bill identifies location information as global position system (GPS) data, enhanced 9-1-1 data, cellular site information and tower triangulation, and any other information that would assist law enforcement in tracking the physical location of a cell phone or wireless mobile device.

“As technology advances, and more and more features are added to cell phones, cell carriers and other mobile communications providers can track a subscriber’s location with pin-point accuracy by ‘pinging’ their mobile device,” said Senator Lesniak. “This technology has a lot of crime-solving potential, but we must be careful that it is used responsibly. My legislation establishes a balance between giving authorities access to this useful crime-solving tool while preserving individuals’ Constitutionally-guaranteed rights.”

Under the State’s current wiretapping law, service providers are required to provide a call record or other information pertaining to a service subscriber if law enforcement has obtained a warrant, customer consent or a court order. However, the current law does not include location information in the types of information that must be disclosed, and does not make provisions for life-and-death emergencies, said Senator Lesniak. Under Senator Lesniak’s legislation, only location information would be provided if the law enforcement officials suspected that the victim might be in danger.

“When a person or child is kidnapped, or for that matter simply lost, and has a cell phone on their person, the communication carrier has the technology to provide law enforcement the location of that phone within minutes,” said Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow in his testimony to the Committee in support of Senator Lesniak’s bill. “Similarly, if a person’s phone, Blackberry, or any device with wireless connectivity is taken in a robbery, the carrier can do the same within minutes. Unfortunately, there is no provision in New Jersey law which specifically requires this.”

Senator Lesniak said that his recent experience in which intruders broke into his Elizabeth home and robbed him underscored the need for this legislation. During the robbery, the thieves took the Senator’s blackberry. Had the Senator’s cell phone carrier been able to cooperate with local law enforcement officials, police could have tracked down and apprehended the thieves much quicker, reducing the risk to the rest of the community, said the lawmaker.

“I was extraordinarily lucky that the thieves who robbed me left me unharmed,” said Senator Lesniak. “However, if police were able to ‘ping’ my cell-phone, they might have been able to catch the perpetrators before they broke into another home in the city, causing more property damage and possibly endangering someone else.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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