In 2007, a young 18-year-old Kansas woman by the name of Kelsey Smith was abducted from a shopping mall in broad daylight. Her parents, Greg and Missey Smith, along with local police, begged their cell phone company to hand over the “ping” records that would help pinpoint the location of her cell phone, and more than likely locate Kelsey herself.
For a variety of legal and liability reasons, the cell phone company refused to release the cell phone location records without a court ordered directive. It took law enforcement four days to secure the proper warrant to gain access to Kelsey’s cell phone location. Within 45 minutes of obtaining those records, local authorities located Kelsey’s body.
This past summer, I was introduced to Kelsey’s story by Marion County Sheriff Jason Sandholdt, who made the case for law enforcement needing access to such records when there is a risk or threat of death or serious physical harm of a missing person.
As with all well-intentioned ideas that are pitched to the legislature, this issue would need to be vetted sufficiently to avoid any unintended consequences. We would need to make sure that adequate legislative “guard rails” were in place in order to protect the civil liberties of Iowans and ensure that this new law could not be abused by either law enforcement or the citizenry.
With those concerns in mind and recognizing the need to balance public safety with our constitutional rights, I introduced House File 54 early in the 2015 Session, which eventually became House File 447 after being passed out of the House Public Safety Committee.
In addition to providing law enforcement the necessary tools to track down a person in the event of an abduction, this bill also holds cell phone service providers harmless when they are acting in good faith to accommodate a law enforcement request to “ping” a cell phone location when searching for a missing person in imminent danger. The legislation makes sure that every emergency request for a cell phone location is properly documented and provides for penalties should an emergency request be invoked for a non-emergency situation.
With unanimous support in the Iowa Senate and near-unanimous support in the Iowa House, I was honored to have been alongside Kelsey’s parents, Kansas State Senator Greg and Missey Smith, when Gov. Branstad signed this bill into law on May 1. Iowa became the 18th state in the country to have enacted this legislation, also known as the “Kelsey Smith Act.”
I am grateful that we were able to alleviate many of the aforementioned concerns early on and that this bill was able to make it through the process in just one Session. I am also very thankful — despite the many shortcomings of government in general and the Iowa Legislature in particular — that we were able to work in such a strong bipartisan fashion to pass this important law designed to safeguard the public.
Rep. Greg Heartsill (R-Columbia) serves Iowa House District 28