CLEVELAND — A new bill introduced in the Ohio Senate would outlaw electronic tracking with devices—such as Apple AirTags—without a person's consent.
It is the second state legislative action taken as a result of advocacy by 3News, following a 3News Investigates report which uncovered loopholes in Ohio law that allows stalkers to secretly track your every move, and it may be perfectly legal under existing Ohio law.
The bipartisan SB 339 was introduced Tuesday by Sen. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) and Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood). The bill follows similar action taken by the Ohio House last week, with the introduction of HB 672 by Rep. Tom Patton (R-Strongsville) and Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron).
Both bills would "generally prohibit a person from knowingly installing a tracking device or application on another person's property without the other person's consent." A violation would be a first degree misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of 180-days in jail and a maximum fine of $1000.
Antonio credited 3News' advocacy for legislation to protect Ohioans.
"Truly, I should be thanking you all for bringing it to the attention of legislators," she said. "That's a problem when the law is silent on, in this case, new technology, so a lot of time our [Ohio Revised] Code takes a while to catch up with something like new technology."
Manning also credited 3News Investigates' reporting for uncovering the loopholes in Ohio law.
"As a former municipal court prosecutor, as a lawyer and state senator, I immediately thought, '[Unwanted tracking] is illegal, and law enforcement will crack down on the bad actors, and hopefully Apple and the other companies will make changes,'" said Manning. "I had no idea that this wouldn't be illegal, and that's why we need to do something very quickly."
A 3News Investigates analysis found at least 19 states with specific laws against electronic tracking, but not Ohio, which relies on stalking and menacing statutes to address cases of unwanted tracking. However, Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said Ohio law on stalking and menacing is murky in AirTag tracking cases.
"Typically, you have to show a pattern of behavior, so you usually need to show two or more instances of stalking behaviors," Walsh explained.
When asked if that means a stalker can get away with one incident, she conceded that prosecuting a menacing by stalking charge can be difficult.
"I don't think the intent is ever that we want to allow someone to do it once, but not more than once," she said.
Following our inquiry, Walsh's criminal division chief researched and reviewed whether secretly placing an electronic tracking device on someone else constitutes a pattern of conduct under the menacing by stalking statute. In an internal department memorandum, the conclusion was that "it is still uncertain."
3News advocates for new legislation
When prosecutors and domestic violence advocates agreed that Ohio laws were not keeping up with technology, 3News took action by contacting local legislators in both chambers of the General Assembly and on both sides of the political aisle to share our reporting and research. We encouraged lawmakers to take a look at legislation in the other 19 states—specifically in Florida, a politically similar state to Ohio—which directly address electronic tracking.
We reached Reps. Patton and Sykes and Sens. Manning and Antonio, and found enthusiastic bipartisan support which led to the introduction of HB 672 and SB 339.
Both bills contain similar language, but the House bill would revise Ohio's current stalking statute while the Senate bill is a proposed new stand-alone law on unwanted electronic tracking. Both bills have exceptions, including for law enforcement and parents wishing to monitor their minor children.