Technology that threatens privacy must be curbed

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The law is always one or two — or 100 — steps behind technology.

Yet, it is incumbent on lawmakers — particularly at the federal level — to monitor emerging technologies, especially when they threaten the public’s rights.

Last week the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee took action on legislation to close a loophole in the law that makes cyberstalking legal.

This loophole, which is in the law originally written to address only telephone companies, does not prohibit software companies from selling programs that operate secretly on cellphones. This cheap-but-effective software is apparently popular among jealous wives or husbands because it can continuously track the whereabouts of their cellphones.

The proposal to close the loophole, sponsored by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., makes it a crime for companies to make and intentionally operate stalking applications, which are generally known as apps. The legislation also aims to make them ineffective by requiring companies to disclose their existence on a target’s phone.

The original law dealing with telephones does not address the Internet because the Internet was not used at the time. Telephone companies currently are barred from disclosing to businesses the locations of people who make land-line calls. Since the cellphone tracking is routed through the web, information can be passed along without the permission of the cellphone user.

Victim’s advocacy groups said Franken’s bill is a common-sense step to curb stalking and domestic violence. We agree even though we understand Franken’s proposal won’t end the practice, it will reduce it.

The unscrupulous will ignore the law or find another loophole to exploit, but at least the devices won’t be advertised openly or carried by reputable, mainstream businesses. And new technology will come along that will present new — and unanticipated — threats to privacy.

When that occurs, lawmakers need to do as much as possible to reduce those threats.


Given changes in the law come at a much, much slower pace than changes in technology, this approach is the best that can be done.

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