The Alaska House of Representatives recently passed legislation that will enable police to access cell phone and satellite phone location data without a warrant in cases of lost hikers. The bill, known as House Bill 316, was approved with a decisive 38-1 vote and is now under the Senate’s state affairs committee for further evaluation. This move aligns with the “Kelsey Smith Act,” inspired by the tragic case of 18-year-old Kelsey Smith, who was abducted and murdered in Kansas in 2007. Her family has championed similar laws to aid in the swift location of missing persons during emergencies.

House Bill 316 stipulates that communications companies must provide phone location information to law enforcement or dispatch centers upon written request in situations deemed as ongoing emergencies, potentially involving the risk of death or serious physical harm. While Rep. Craig Johnson of Anchorage, the bill’s sponsor, expressed a hope that such measures would rarely be necessary, concerns regarding civil liberties were raised by Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla among others, fearing potential government overreach and privacy invasion.

In response to apprehensions about potential misuse of the location request system, the House introduced amendments making such abuse a class A misdemeanor, addressing concerns of some legislators like Rep. Julie Coulombe of Anchorage, who became supportive following the modifications. House Majority Leader Dan Saddler from Eagle River highlighted the bill’s personal significance, referencing his son with autism as a potential beneficiary of the legislation in emergency scenarios, emphasizing the law’s practicality over theoretical civil liberties debates.

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