Using devices like AirTags to track someone without consent isn't a crime in Ohio, yet

House Bill 672 would change that
Using devices like AirTags to track someone without consent isn't a crime in Ohio, yet
Posted at 6:33 PM, May 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-16 18:33:55-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A new bipartisan bill in the Ohio House would make tracking another person or their property without their consent, like with an Apple AirTag, a crime.

AirTags are Bluetooth tracking devices and can be very useful, helping owners find their missing keys or where they parked their car, however — some have been using the tools with much more sinister intentions, according to law enforcement.

Before Heidi Moon was killed in Akron back in Jan., she thought she was being stalked. She sought out an investigator who told News 5 he found an AirTag in her car.

RELATED: Family believes Akron mother was stalked, emotionally abused before ex-boyfriend killed her

In Feb., News 5 reported on a 29-year-old West Park woman who said a device was following her but fell off her car before she found it. She said she did find double-sided tape underneath her back bumper.

RELATED: Apple AirTag placed unknowingly on West Park woman’s car, tracked her location for hours

But even if someone took a device like that to police, they may not be able to do much.

"Right now, in Ohio, that's not a law," Rep. Tom Patton, a Republican from Strongsville, said. "It's not a crime."

Two Northeast Ohio lawmakers say as technology advances, laws need to keep up.

"There wasn't anything that they could do to hold this person accountable for," Rep. Emilia Sykes, a Democrat from Akron, said.

The lawmakers introduced House Bill 672, which would prohibit installing a tracking device on another person's property without consent.

"Like in any new electronic creation, there's some bad effects to it and some bad actors, miscreants will come out and they'll use these AirTags for human trafficking or stalking," Patton said.

With the increase of technology in which people can use them for not only good but evil, legislators have to be adjusting to those types of technology in order to make sure people feel safe and secure, Sykes said.

Under the proposed bill, violators could be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor.

There are some exceptions, such as the majority of cases with parents and minors, law enforcement or a caregiver for an elderly individual.

"We have to be mindful of privacy rights and constitutional rights, and we don't want to infringe upon that," Sykes said.

For the full list of exceptions, click or tap here.

There is also an exemption for when consent is automatically revoked. For example, if a couple separates or divorces, that consent is immediately revoked in order to ensure that people are remaining safe as relationships are changing, Skyes added.

The legislators say they were both stunned that this loophole existed, but Ray Ku, a Case Western Reserve University law professor, said the language is tricky.

"Interfering with someone's body or property without their consent would generally be either trespass or battery," Ku said. "So if I put a tag on your car, 'I'm actually trespassing on your car' versus 'you don't really have a right unless you have an expectation of privacy.'

He explains there is a potential argument that there is no privacy expectation since the information gathered from the Tag could be the same as from just seeing the individual in public.

"The actual recording or monitoring of where you are isn't and couldn't necessarily be actually made an offense," Ku said, citing current law.

Ku specializes in constitutional law, internet law and data privacy. The bill is a good start, but he thinks it could be broader.

"Without focusing on the specific technology or the way it's specifically embodied right now, we would be more concerned with the general idea of someone monitoring your location through any device — electronic or otherwise, known today or developed in the future, without your consent," he said. "The main idea was we want to protect ourselves from being essentially stalked or trailed or otherwise surveilled everywhere we go."

Because of how specific the language is in the bill, Ku said it would only impact devices specifically made for tracking.

As defined by the bill, a tracking device means "any device, the primary purpose of which is to reveal its location or movement by the transmission of electronic signals."

This means that putting anything with GPS capability, internet access or a cell signal could still be legal because their primary function isn't tracking.

"If we apply these laws only to those kind of single-use devices, well, those are the exception rather than the norm," the professor said.

Ku believes a better idea would be to include any type of device that has the capability to track, not just the primary focus.

The lawmakers said they are open to feedback and if something needs to be adjusted, they will look into it through the legislative process, but they are confident it will gain support.

"I don't know who would possibly want to oppose something like taking this new technology and getting it put into the code," Patton said.

As of right now, there are no public opponents. The biggest problem is timing.

It is relatively late to be introducing a new bill into the Legislature, but the representatives hope that lawmakers will see the need for this protection and quickly push the bill forward.

In the meantime, if you notice that you are being tracked by an AirTag, Apple says there is a way to disable the tracking.

They published an AirTag safety guide here with a link to an app for Android users that may be being tracked, as well.

"Apple has done some things like creating some alert systems," Sykes said. "But that's something that the tech companies are going to have to help us figure out so that these types of technologies are not misused and create situations, in which there are dangerous situations or liability being attached."

She is hopeful that the tech companies will also be willing to work alongside lawmakers to make sure that the technologies that they're putting on the market are also safe and being used correctly, she said.

Ku warns that getting tech companies involved requires careful balance.

"Where that device goes is something that the company, for example, like Apple, can't control at all," he said. "And if they could, we might be more concerned that the remedy would be worse than the actual crime or violation."

"You wouldn't necessarily want Apple to know exactly where your device was at any given time."

If you are being tracked, once you are in a safe area, there is also a way for you to cause the AirTag to play a sound to help you find it. The notification will also give you the serial numbers of the device, which can help law enforcement and Apple find out who it is registered to.

The best option is to drive directly to a police station, according to tech experts and police.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.