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Emergency Cellphone Access For Police Considered

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – Police would have expanded powers to access cellphone information without a warrant under a bill that passed Tuesday with unanimous bipartisan support in the state House Judiciary Committee.

The bill would require phone companies to provide law enforcement with access to the location of a phone in emergencies.

Phone companies often share such information when there is an abduction or missing person. But the bill approved 11-0 would require cellphone providers to disclose such information in emergency situations.

The sponsor of the measure, Democratic Rep. Daniel Kagan of Denver, said the warrantless access would be used only when waiting even a few moments could endanger a life. In those cases, cellphone companies would be required to disclose call location information, called a ping.

“Drawing up a warrant can take hours and hours and hours,” Kagan said. “It cannot just be done in the blink of an eye. But damage to the victim can be done in the blink of an eye.”

Warrantless phone searches raise privacy concerns, but state lawmakers seemed to agree the measure includes adequate safeguards to protect the public from illegal searches by police.

After a warrantless cellphone review, law enforcement would have to submit probable cause to a court within 48 hours. If a judge determines the “ping” request was unwarranted, any information obtained would have to be destroyed and couldn’t be used in court.

“There are potentials for abuse if we don’t impose safeguards,” said Republican Rep. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs. “We need to be cautious about what we’re doing.”

Law enforcement groups told lawmakers that cellphone locations are routinely accessed under federal law or in state hostage situations.

They said the expansion would help clarify state law and allow the practice in cases where there’s no hostage but a life is still in danger – such as an elderly person wandering off or a person threatening suicide without telling loved ones where they are.

“This is worth doing. Please clear it up for us,” said Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey.

No one testified against the bill on Tuesday. It faces a vote by the full House before heading to the Senate.

LINK: House Bill 1308

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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