COLUMBUS — Tracking someone through apps and devices like the popular Apple AirTag without their consent could soon be deemed a criminal offense in Ohio, after the state’s Republican-led Senate advanced the measure Wednesday with a unanimous bipartisan vote.
The proposed legislation comes as big tech companies such as Apple and Google are teaming up to combat the rise of mobile apps, AirTags and similar small, portable tracking devices that have been used by stalkers and for other nefarious purposes.
Typically attached to often misplaced items like keys or wallets, individuals are increasingly using them on cars and other property to track people without their knowledge.
Currently, there is no law expressly banning tracking people with apps and related devices in Ohio.
But should the bipartisan bill change that, violators could be charged with a new first-degree misdemeanor offense of the “illegal use of a device or application,” resulting in up to 180 days in jail. If the individual holds a prior conviction of menacing by stalking, the charge could escalate to a fourth-degree felony, resulting in six to 18 months in jail.
Sens. Nathan Manning, a Cuyahoga County Republican, and Nickie Antonio, a Cleveland area Democrat, said the legislation was inspired by the story of Kar’Mell Triplett, an Akron woman whose ex-boyfriend hid an AirTag in her car.
Triplett was terrified, she previously testified before a Senate committee, but under current state law, had little to no legal recourse.
Advocates, such as Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, applaud it as a way to protect domestic violence survivors from further abuse — especially after an individual leaves an abusive situation. There is no known opposition to the measure.
Exceptions to the proposal include some law enforcement activity; parents or guardians tracking their children; caregivers tracking an elderly or disabled person they are entrusted with; a non-private investigator acting on behalf of a “legitimate business purpose;” and private investigators on certain cases.
The bill now heads to the House for further consideration.
Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.