Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Senators call for investigation into 'stalking apps'


Today, U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) led a bipartisan group of Senators in calling on key federal agencies for an investigation into mobile phone “stalking apps.” The apps are designed to allow domestic abusers and stalkers to secretly track a victim’s movement and location, read a victim’s email and text messages, or listen to a victim’s phone calls – all without the victim’s knowledge or consent.

Sens. Franken and Grassley wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice and urged the agencies to determine whether such apps are legal under current law. The letter was also signed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

“Stalking apps are dangerous,” the senators wrote in the letter. “We ask that you quickly determine if they are also illegal. If so, we ask that the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission use their full force to investigate and prosecute those behind the development and marketing of these products for illegal stalking.”

Stalking apps are directly marketed to individuals seeking to secretly track their spouses and intimate partners. “Worried about your spouse cheating?” one apps’ website asked, offering the ability to “Track every text, every call and every move They make Using our easy Cell Phone Spy Software.” Other apps make similar claims, telling users that they can “track her movements throughout the day” or even “tap her actual phone call.” According to 2006 Bureau of Justice Statistics data, some 26,000 Americans are victims of GPS stalking annually, including by cell phone – although most advocates believe that number if considerably larger in 2011.

The letter cites an example of a victim from St. Louis County, Minnesota, who was tracked by her abuser through her smartphone during her trips to various county buildings to obtain an Order of Protection against him. This example was drawn from testimony submitted by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women and the National Network to End Domestic Violence to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, which Senator Franken chairs.