Technology vs. Law: Why Phone Tracking App is Leaving Law in Dark Ages

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In a world where technology moves as fast as the second-hand ticks on a clock, there’s room for laws to be delayed.

Diana Wright is a busy working mother, without any room for a day-of mishap.

“It was early in the morning,” said Wright. “I just grabbed him [her son] out of the car seat.”

She said dropping her son off, a normally 30-second task, turned into all-day trouble.

“[I] realized my wallet and phone had been stolen,” said Wright. “Very aggravating.”

Shortly after the theft, she knew where her phone was thanks to the ‘Find my iPhone’ app.

“It showed that my phone was at an apartment complex,” said Wright.

It was so close… and minutes away.

“I called the Detective and told him what was going on and said, hey I know where it is so can you go get it and he basically said ‘no ma’am I can’t’,” said Wright.

The stolen phone may be pinging from inside a home, but the police are unable to do anything about it.

This happens more than you might think. 

“Maybe the laws need to be updated a little bit on that,” said Bryant Police Sergeant Todd Crowson.

Crowson said they use the phone tracking apps as a starting point.

“It’s pinging at 123 Main Street, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be right there,” said Crowson.

While it’s likely different technology being used between the ‘Find my iPhone’ app and a 9-1-1 call center, Crowson said even when someone calls 911 from a cell phone, it usually doesn’t give an exact address.

Even if the app determined the stolen phone’s exact location, Crowson said laws today do not give officers the authority to go inside someone’s home where the stolen phone is pinging.

State Representative Stephen Meeks (R-District 67), said laws concerning technology are hardly touched.

“Technology is an ever-changing part of our lives,” said Meeks. “Things like this will happen and we don’t react to it because we’re not familiar with it or no one has told us this is an issue. So when you brought this to me… yeah I never considered that before.”

Meeks said before he can write legislation giving officers more flexibility to use the app while obtaining a search warrant, it would have to be proven that the app finding the stolen phone’s location is accurate without any reasonable doubt.

“You can get into areas where there can be conflicting interests between privacy and freedom so trying to find that balance is also a challenge,” said Meeks.

Wright admits there’s likely more that goes into getting a search warrant but hopes things can be changed soon for a better outcome.

“I also know I’m not the only person this has ever happened too,” said Wright. “iPhone’s are expensive. We need that law changed.”

Police have found the ‘Find my iPhone’ app to be successful in many cases, including the kidnapping of a California woman after her husband used the app to track his missing wife’s phone which led to the area where she was abducted.

The app led him to an area near Sunrise Drive and Old Oregon Trail, where he found his wife’s cellphone and earbuds with strands of hair attached to them.

In 2012, two suspects were arrested in Atlanta for robbing five women at gunpoint.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, officers tracked the suspects by using the ‘Find My iPhone’ app to find one of the stolen iPhones.

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