Burglary at lawmaker's home revives phone-tracking bill

TULALIP, Wash. -- You can call across the globe with it, order food for delivery, and even compose a hit song.

For all the things smart phones can do these days, there's one thing they can't do in Washington state: give away your location to police, unless officers have a warrant.

After having two iPhones stolen in the past few months, State Senator John McCoy hopes to change that.

"Twice in two and a half months we caught bad guys using (the app) 'Find my iPhone,'" McCoy said, standing in front of his house, where the most recent theft occurred. "I mentioned to the officer, 'well, why don't you do this?' And he said, 'no I can't.' "

McCoy's phone and rental car were stolen from his Tulalip house on July 13, according to police. The rental car was in the garage, but the thief also snuck in a side door and took the phone while McCoy was showering, he said.

A family member quickly noticed the car was missing but that McCoy was still home, prompting a call to police.

"My grandson said, 'oh, I thought you were gone.' He said the garage door was open and the car was gone," McCoy added. "I came out and I look and sure enough, the car is gone. Garage door's open. So I said, 'I wonder what else is missing?' "

McCoy realized his iPhone had been stolen from the kitchen counter. He told officers he could track the location of the stolen phone from his iPad.

"Just as soon as I open (the app) up, bam, there it was. (The thief) was sitting at 23rd and Broadway. A minute later, I say, 'he's on the move again!' McCoy said. "I just kept telling them the cross streets he was getting to, by just hitting refresh, refresh, refresh."

Police later caught the thief in Everett. A law enforcement source identified the suspect as Philemon J. Shark, a repeat offender with a lengthy criminal history, according to state records.

"Whether it's a human life or property, you know, law enforcement should be able to have that tool (to track something)," McCoy added.

State legislators tried passing a bill last session that would allow law enforcement to access wireless location data in emergency cases without having a warrant. House Bill 1897 did not pass.

There have been some concerns about privacy issues in similar cases in the past, but the local American Civil Liberties Union did not oppose the bill, said Doug Honig, communications director for the ACLU.

"It was just for emergency purposes and we recognize in emergency purposes that a warrant might not be necessary," Honig said. "We would be opposed in a non-emergency situation."

McCoy said he intends to push for new legislation when lawmakers return to Olympia.

"I've heard all the arguments about privacy and rogue cops," he added. "We can only do the best we can to ensure that we keep our life and property safe."

"If somebody takes it, we should be able to use whatever means necessary to return our life or property," he added.