3News Investigation leads to bills targeting AirTags tracking

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SB 339 would prohibit someone from installing a tracking device on you without your consent.

CLEVELAND — A new bill introduced in the Ohio Senate would ban electronic tracking with devices — such as Apple AirTags — without a person’s consent.

This is the second state legislative action taken as a result of 3News’ advocacy, following a 3News Investigates report that uncovered loopholes in Ohio law that allow stalkers to secretly track your every move, and it may be perfectly legal under existing Ohio law.

The bipartisan SB 339 was introduced Tuesday by Sen. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) and Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood). The bill follows a similar move by the Ohio House last week, with the introduction of HB 672 by Rep. Tom Patton (R-Strongsville) and Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron).

Both bills would “generally prohibit a person from knowingly installing a tracking device or application on another person’s property without the other person’s consent.” A violation would be a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.

Antonio credited 3News’ advocacy for legislation to protect Ohioans.

“Really, I should thank you all for bringing this to the attention of lawmakers,” she said. “It’s a problem when the law is silent on, in this case, new technologies, so a lot of the time our [Ohio Revised] Code takes time to catch up with something like new technology.”

Manning also credited 3News Investigates reporting for uncovering loopholes in Ohio law.

“As a former City Court prosecutor, as an attorney and as a state senator, I immediately thought, ‘[Unwanted tracking] is illegal, and law enforcement will crack down on bad actors, and I hope Apple and the other companies make changes,” Manning said. “I had no idea it wouldn’t be illegal, and that’s why we have to do something very quickly.”

An analysis by 3News Investigates found that at least 19 states had specific laws against electronic tracking, but not Ohio, which relies on harassment and threatening statuses to deal with cases of unwanted tracking. However, Summit County District Attorney Sherri Bevan Walsh said Ohio’s harassment and threat law is murky in AirTag tracking cases.

“Generally, you have to show a pattern of behavior, so you usually have to show two or more examples of harassing behavior,” Walsh explained.

Asked if that meant a stalker could get away with a single incident, she conceded that it can be difficult to pursue a charge of threatening criminal harassment.

“I don’t think the intention is to allow anyone to do it once, but not more than once,” she said.

As a result of our investigation, the head of Walsh’s Criminal Division researched and investigated whether secretly placing an electronic tracking device on someone else constituted a pattern of conduct under the Threat Act by harassment. In an internal memo to the service, the conclusion was that “it is still uncertain”.

3News calls for new legislation

When domestic violence prosecutors and advocates agreed that Ohio laws were not keeping up with technology, 3News took action by contacting local lawmakers from both houses of the General Assembly and both sides of the political aisle to share our reports and our research. We encouraged lawmakers to review legislation in 19 other states, particularly in Florida, a politically similar state to Ohio, which deals directly with electronic tracking.

We reached Reps Patton and Sykes and Sens. Manning and Antonio, and found enthusiastic bipartisan support which led to the introduction of HB 672 and SB 339.

Both bills contain similar language, but the House bill would revise Ohio’s current stalking law, while the Senate bill is a new stand-alone electronic tracking bill. undesirable. Both bills provide exceptions, including for law enforcement and parents wishing to monitor their minor children.

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