Senate targets stalking software
Loophole allows companies to sell apps for cyberstalking.
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.”