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Franken and Blumenthal Introduce Location-Based Privacy Bill

Newscom / mj3

Sens. Al Franken (D-MN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) proposed the legislation following a series of reports on Apple's use of stored location-based iPhone data.

In April, a pair of researchers published an article that showed how Apple collects location-based data on its mobile devices, and how it keeps on collecting the information even if the device's settings are changed.

Apple has since issued a statement clarifying that it tracks WiFi hotspots and cell towers, and not personal information, and it also updated its software to address the persistent tracking problem.

Though the issue received attention in May, the two senators' proposal is rather limited in scope. In addition, though Franken alluded to the phenomenon of stalking by GPS and cellphone in a statement outlining the legislation on Wednesday, it's unlikely that this bill will do anything to curtail the problem.

The Location Privacy Protection Act of 2011 would require location-based service providers to obtain consent from customers before tracking them, and it would also close a legal loophole and ban those companies from being able to provide that tracking information to third parties without the consent of the person being tracked.

The legislation also requires companies that have tracking information on more than 5,000 devices to take appropriate security measures, disclose what information they do have about customers, and delete it upon request.

The bill has garnered support from the Center for Democracy and Technology and Consumer's Union, as well as several other consumer protection, crime and domestic violence prevention groups.

If you perform an online search of GPS stalking, however, you'll soon discover that stalkers usually surreptitiously change the settings on victims' phones. Or they place other kinds of tracking devices on victims' cars that they're not aware of.

People worried about being stalked might be better off buying a gadget that jams GPS signals and blocks any tracking abilities.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) offered a competing location-based tracking bill Wednesday.

That bill, the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act, does address some of the issues mentioned in the articles about stalking. It also provides detailed guidelines to law enforcement agencies and commercial companies about usage of data, and how such information can be used in a standard way in criminal cases in court.