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Senate Bill Would Ban Stalking Apps and Save Women’s Lives

June 4, 2014

The Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014 promotes safety for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking by introducing common-sense technology regulations

June 4, 2014 – Today, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) testified in support of the Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014, a common-sense bill introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law. NNEDV worked with Sen. Franken and the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women on elements of the bill focused on protecting domestic violence and stalking survivors.

“I am appalled at the vile tracking products intended and marketed to aid abusers and stalkers in committing crimes,” said Cindy Southworth, NNEDV Vice President. “Some developers try to mask their nefarious intentions by mentioning child safety or employee monitoring once or twice, but their true focus is obvious when they reiterate on every page how their products are completely hidden and work in stealth mode.”

“One of the more disturbing Apps that I have seen is ‘HelloSpy,’” said Southworth during today’s hearing. “[This app] has a long list of stalking features and has a continuous animated image on their main webpage showing a scene where a man roughly shoves a woman off the bed, head first.”

Enacting new criminal statutes like this one will empower law enforcement officials to target emerging, technology-aided forms of stalking or abuse. This may be especially valuable in the case of stalking or domestic violence where often a series of escalating behaviors are a prelude to an ultimately tragic event. Equipping law enforcement with new statutes and new, potent penalties may allow for interventions before these tragedies occur. As Sheriff’s Detective Brian Hill pointed out in his testimony, “[W]hen law enforcement cannot effectively investigate and respond to stalking cases, victims stop reporting and abusers win.”

“Most Americans have smartphones now,” said Chairman Franken. “And the companies that make the software on your phone, including apps, can access extremely sensitive location data that reveals where you live, where you work, where you drop your kids off at school, the church you attend, and the doctors you visit. I believe that Americans have the right to control who can collect that information, and whether or not it can be given to third parties. But right now, companies—some legitimate, some not—are collecting your location and giving it to whomever they want.”

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994, the touchstone for protection of women from stalking and domestic violence and the thirtieth anniversary of the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), the only dedicated federal funding source for life-saving local domestic violence services. In this significant anniversary year, we are excited about this bill that would enact additional protections for victims. Federal laws are uniquely suited to raising public awareness, providing additional safeguards at the national level, and serving as model statutory language for state laws so that local law enforcement and prosecutors can hold stalkers accountable.

As Sen. Franken said in the hearing, “[I]t’s not illegal to make and sell a stalking app…my bill will shut down these apps once and for all.”

“The Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014 will close the eavesdropping loophole that currently allows tracking a victim’s location, even though federal law prohibits intercepting a victim’s communications,” said Kim Gandy, NNEDV’s president. “It will help eliminate the marketing of technologies that are designed to facilitate stalking and similar abuses. No one should profit from encouraging or enabling criminal acts.”

Learn more about technology safety from NNEDV’s Safety Net project or join the conversation on social media using #banstalkingapps.