A bill that would make it easier for law enforcement to get cellphone location data during emergencies was rejected by the House of Representatives on Monday after critics said it could too easily be abused.
The Kelsey Smith Act failed to get the two-thirds vote required to pass under suspension of the rules, with 229 votes for the bill and 158 votes against. It marked a defeat for House leadership, because it is uncommon for bills to fail under suspension.
The Huffington Post reported that the family of Kelsey Smith, who was murdered after being kidnapped almost 10 years ago, watched from the gallery as the bill failed.
The measure would have made it easier for law enforcement to get location data from cellphones in emergency situations by requiring telecom companies to provide it. Critics said it gave police too much power and urged lawmakers to vote against it even as they said they agreed with the broader purpose of the law.
“While written with the best intentions, this bill would breach the privacy of millions of Americans by giving law enforcement an unprecedented level of access to the movement, whereabouts and location of targeted individuals,” wrote a representative of the conservative R Street Institute in a blog post.
The bill in its current form was also opposed at a hearing earlier this year by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Rep. Greg Walden, who chairs the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, huddled with an aide on the floor of the House as his colleagues left the chamber after the vote. When he made his way out, he said he still hoped to pass the bill.
“At the last minute, you get this threatening stuff that somehow we’re causing problems [for] Fourth Amendment rights. It doesn’t do that,” he said.
“We’re not done fighting to give law enforcement the tools to save people’s lives who are in danger,” he said. “I think members clearly didn’t understand its limited scope and it’s disappointing.”