Ohio to Criminalize AirTag Stalking

It could be the second state to do so, as legislators look to reign in unwanted tracking with new legislation.
Apple AirTag Credit: Hadrian / Shutterstock
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Although Apple’s AirTags are far from the most dangerous trackers out there, there’s no doubt that criminals have been abusing them to track people without their knowledge or consent.

There are likely many reasons for this, but the affordability and convenience of AirTags make them more accessible than many alternatives. Fortunately for potential victims, it also makes it much easier for a stalker to get caught.

In fact, using an AirTag to stalk somebody is probably the stupidest thing a criminal can do. Not only has Apple made sure that a potential victim will be made aware of the AirTag’s presence, but every AirTag has a serial number that Apple can use to provide law enforcement with the identity of its owner — and Apple has clearly stated that it will happily cooperate with the police if an AirTag is found being abused.

Now, at least two states are drafting new laws that would ensure that the very act of planting an AirTag on someone is considered a crime.

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In January, 9to5Mac reported that Pennsylvania State Representative John Galloway had proposed legislation that “would seek to prohibit Apple AirTags from being used outside of their intended use as a locator for misplaced personal items.” In the news release, Galloway added, “My legislation would protect Pennsylvanians by making sure that this unwarranted act is addressed by updating our Crimes Code to prohibit someone from tracking one’s location or their belongings without consent.”

While that proposal is still making its way through the legislative system, it now looks like Ohio could be the second state to pass a similar law. 3News WKYC reports that a new bill, HB672, has been introduced in the Ohio House to “amend section 2903.211 of the Revised Code” to “generally prohibit a person from knowingly installing a tracking device or application on another person’s property without the other person’s consent.”

The Ohio bill follows a February investigation by 3News into a 21-year-old Akron woman who reported finding an AirTag on her Chevy Malibu in October 2021. After receiving a tracking alert on her iPhone, she immediately drove to the Akron Police Department, where officers found an AirTag that she believes was planted by a disgruntled former boyfriend.

But Isn’t Stalking Already Illegal?

Unfortunately, many U.S. states don’t have laws that are strict enough to allow the police to deal with this kind of tracking. That’s what Pennsylvania and Ohio are working to fix.

One of the problems is that simply tracking somebody isn’t a crime by itself. Ohio’s Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh told 3News that stalkers can often get away with a single incident because the law requires that they show a “pattern of behavior.”

Typically, you have to show a pattern of behavior, so you usually need to show two or more instances of stalking behaviors. Sherri Bevan Walsh, Ohio Prosecutor

In its investigation 3News found that at least 19 states have specific laws against electronic tracking, but that also means as many as 31 states do not.

In those places where the laws are murkier, stalking victims often have to suffer repeated stalking attempts or have already become victims of domestic violence before police and prosecutors have any grounds to charge the abuser.

It’s just another example of how laws haven’t kept up with advances in technology. Even in civil cases, an Ohio court ruled in 2018 that tracking with an AirTag or other GPS tracking device wouldn’t qualify as an invasion of privacy. The court ruled that secretly attaching a tracking device to somebody’s car was no different than watching them drive down a public road.

Apple is also working hard to improve the AirTag’s safety features — and it really should do everything it can. However, the best anti-stalking features in the world won’t work unless there are consequences for the perpetrators of AirTag stalking. Stricter laws are necessary to ensure that AirTag stalkers can’t walk away with impunity, and it’s good to see that at least some states are taking this seriously.

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