Se­nate tar­gets stalk­ing soft­ware

Loop­hole al­lows com­pa­nies to sell apps for cy­ber­stalk­ing.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By richard Lardner

WASHINGTON — A loop­hole that per­mits soft­ware com­pa­nies to sell cy­ber­stalk­ing apps that op­er­ate se­cretly on cell­phones could soon be closed by Congress. The soft­ware is pop­u­lar among jeal­ous wives or hus­bands be­cause it can con­tin­u­ously track the where­abouts of a spouse.

The Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee ap­proved a bill Thurs­day that makes it a crime for com­pa­nies to make and in­ten­tion­ally op­er­ate a stalk­ing app. The leg­is­la­tion, spon­sored by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., also would curb the ap­peal for such in­ex­pen­sive and easy-to-use pro­grams by re­quir­ing com­pa­nies to dis­close their ex­is­tence on a tar­get’s phone.

Stalk­ing and wire­tap­ping al­ready are il­le­gal, mean­ing it’s against the law in most cases for a hus­band or wife to se­cretly in­stall the soft­ware on a spouse’s cell­phone. Franken’s pro­posal would ex­tend the crim­i­nal and civil li­a­bil­i­ties for the im­proper use of the apps to in­clude the soft­ware com­pa­nies that sell them.

The pro­posal would up­date laws passed years be­fore wire­less tech­nol­ogy rev­o­lu­tion­ized com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Tele­phone com­pa­nies cur­rently are barred from dis­clos­ing to busi­nesses the lo­ca­tions of peo­ple who make tra­di­tional phone calls.

But there’s no such pro­hi­bi­tion when com­mu­ni­cat­ing over the In­ter­net. If a mo­bile de­vice sends an email, links to a web­site or launches an app, the pre­cise lo­ca­tion of the phone can be passed to ad­ver­tis­ers, mar­keters and oth­ers with­out the user’s per­mis­sion.

“What’s most trou­bling is this: Our law is not pro­tect­ing lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion,” said Franken, chair­man of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary sub­com­mit­tee on pri­vacy, tech­nol­ogy and the law.

The am­bi­gu­ity has cre­ated a niche for com­pa­nies like Retina Soft­ware, which makes ePhoneTracker and de­scribes it as “stealth phone spy soft­ware.”

It’s avail­able on­line for about $50.

“Sus­pect your spouse is cheat­ing?” the com­pany’s web­site says. “Don’t break the bank by hir­ing a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor.”

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