New law grants police more power over cell phone companies - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

New law grants police more power over cell phone companies

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Amarillo, TX - A controversial new law on the books in eight states has civil libertarians and law enforcement at odds with each other.

"Kelsey's Law" is named after 18 year-old Kelsey Smith of Kansas, who in 2007 was abducted from a Target parking lot, prompting a four-day search for the missing teen.

When her cell phone company eventually relinquished her geographic data to police, her body was found in about 45 minutes.

Her case was used to enact her namesake law in Kansas, which requires cell phone companies to release any information law enforcement requests in an emergency situation.

Just last week, Missouri became the eighth state to adopt the law, and one citizen has already filed a lawsuit against the law on grounds it supersedes federal law, which gives cell phone companies some discretion as to what information to release.

Civil rights advocates argue Kelsey's Law gives police too much power over the lives of citizens, as Amarillo attorney Jeff Blackburn says, "This law is a great example of how in our flight to safety, always, whether it's the Patriot Act, whether it's this, it's always a matter of giving law enforcement more power over our individual lives, and one brick at a time, one step at a time, what we wind up losing is our whole way of life."

Supporters say police and emergency responders need access to anything they need in the name of public safety, as Randall County District Attorney James Farren says, "We have to recognize that if we want the government, law enforcement as an arm of that government, to protect us from the bad guys, we have to be willing to give them the tools and powers necessary to protect us."

Others can see both the necessity of police authority and the potential for abuse, as Potter County Sheriff Brian Thomas says, "If you wrote it like a search warrant and had a judge sign off on it, like, 'Yes, this is legitimate, let's do that,' but then again, you're kind of defeating the purpose because that could be a couple hours that could have been beneficial in trying to find that person.  So I understand both sides of it - in law enforcement, that would be a great tool as long as it's not abused."

Texas lawmakers have not yet considered the law, but the next legislative session begins in January.

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