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Bill Named After Murdered Girl Fails House Vote. Thank Goodness.

Hard cases make bad law and exploiting grief is bad politics.

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Lorna | Dreamstime.com

The Kelsey Smith Act was named after an 18-year-old woman who was abducted from a Target parking lot and killed. For the last four years, Smith's family has been backing a bill to force telecommunications companies to hand over data about the whereabouts of a cellphone at the time of a call to law enforcement in emergency situations. Seems like this sort of thing should sail right though Congress, right? After all, we've got: 

Tragic story about violence done to a young white woman: check!

Grieving family on display at the Capitol: check!

Bill named after the victim: check!

Increased powers that law enforcement has been demanding for years anyway: check!

Then, a surprising twist: The Kelsey Smith Act failed on the floor of the House this week with a vote of 229-158 (it needed two-third of the vote to pass, because it was considered "under suspension of the rules"). Smith's family was in the gallery, as The Huffington Post's Matt Fuller noted yesterday, adding a particularly embarrassing emotional layer to proceedings.

Thank goodness. It was a bad bill and it deserved to be voted down.

If you're thinking that I'm an insensitive jerk right now, congrats: You've been successfully manipulated by lawmakers and law enforcement who want to expand their power under cover of human tragedy. 

People who backed this bill are surely well-intentioned, but here's the thing: The new powers granted to law enforcement in the bill would almost certainly have wound up being used primarily to track down everyday criminals, drug dealers, and, heck, probably people who say mean things about the size of Donald Trump's appendages—not just in rare emergency abduction scenarios. What's more, if the law had already been in place when Kelsey was abducted, it almost certainly would NOT have helped find her before she was killed.

Current law already allows telecom providers to share info with police in emergencies if the user has given permission or if law enforcement clears a few existing bureaucratic and judicial hurdles to prove to the company that an emergency is indeed underway, as the R Street Institute has noted. This bill would have taken a bigger dent out of the Fourth Amendment by removing even those minimal barriers—which are designed to protect users' privacy—and leaving the definition of emergency up to law enforcement, as the ACLU noted earlier this year.

The lawmakers who voted against this bill did the right thing. If there's anyone who should be ashamed about how this played out, it's the guys and gals who trotted out grieving family members to score political points.

Handy rule of thumb: Bills named after victims (or those with cutesy acronyms) should raise red flags; they're more likely than usual to be classic examples of the legislative sub-variant of the "hard cases making bad law" principle. 

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  1. The new powers granted to law enforcement in the bill would almost certainly have wound up being used primarily to track down everyday criminals, drug dealers

    KMW is shilling for Big Crime!

  2. Bills named after victims (or those with cutesy acronyms) should raise red flags;

    as should bills longer than two pages and those that require a “legal expert” to disambiguate.

  3. “People who backed this bill are surely well-intentioned”

    I’m not entirely convinced that is true.

    1. The parents? Sure. The others, all of them? Not so much.

  4. Handy rule of thumb: Bills named after victims (or those with cutesy acronyms) should raise red flags; they’re more likely than usual to be classic examples of the legislative sub-variant of the “hard cases making bad law” principle.

    Out of curiosity, is there any evidence that Kelsey’s Law would’ve saved Kelsey? Sounds like this should be knowable from the facts and is (suspiciously/conspicuously) unreported.

    1. What’s more, if the law had already been in place when Kelsey was abducted, it almost certainly would NOT have helped find her before she was killed.

      1. Ain’t nobody got time to read the article, Kristen, damn!

          1. Why Kristen, you changed your hair.

      2. ^ Look at this fucking loser reading the article

      3. Yeah, RTHFA, I know. I guess I was expecting something a bit more damning other than just “wouldn’t have helped” and was surpirsed that searching didn’t seem to help.

        1. I couldn’t get the web page KM-W provided a link for to open, mad.casual.

          Regardless, I posit that even those of us who would accept that this type of law “almost certainly would NOT have helped find” Ms. Smith before she was murdered would likely point out that in the future this type of law could allow law enforcement to successfully track and find other victims before they are further victimized/murdered.

          Although I would agree with my hypothetical fellows in this regard, I also think that this is why we should remain cognizant of what KM-W pointed out in her article (“Hard cases make bad law”*) and what I offered in the comments (would-be criminals would simply discard cell phones).

          *”Hard cases make bad law is an adage or legal maxim. It means that an extreme case is a poor basis for a general law that would cover a wider range of less extreme cases.”

          1. Is it similar to “pissed off voters pick shitty candidates”?

  5. The Kelsey Smith Act was named after an 18-year-old woman who was abducted from a Target parking lot and killed.

    Something something tranny restrooms

  6. I agree with KM-W here.

    After learning about the new law had it passed, wouldn’t the types of criminals who abducted Ms. Smith from the parking lot simply discard their victim’s cell phones so as not to be tracked? If possible and convenient to them, wouldn’t more intelligent ones place their victim’s phone on a nearby vehicle to throw off law enforcement?

    1. I agree even more that the real purpose behind this law is to further ratchet away our rights.

  7. Titularly, she’s a girl, but in the body she’s a woman? (Yeah, go ahead, try to make that dirty.) I feel like the language here is manipulating me in some way but i don’t know how.

    1. I feel like the language here is manipulating me in some way but i don’t know how.

      It’s a lot like Winston’s mom in that way.

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  9. The victim’s dad was a cop and he doesn’t have time to parse legalities and “rights”.

  10. Kinda scary when you think about it dude.

    http://www.Total-Privacy.tk

  11. “Handy rule of thumb: Bills named after victims (or those with cutesy acronyms) should raise red flags…”

    Or both. The worst of these laws, IMO, is Amber Alert (which is named after Amber Hagerman) AND Amber is a cutesy acronym (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response). From my experience 99.9% of Amber Alerts are not child abduction situations, but instead child custody battles. Nothing pisses me off more than getting these alerts on TV/cell phone at home. “Hold on, let me check….Nope the missing child is not in my fucking living room.”

  12. Bill Named After Murdered Girl Fails House Vote.

    The Kelsey Smith Act was named after an 18-year-old woman . . .

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  14. “A bill to force telecommunications companies to hand over data about the whereabouts of a cellphone at the time of a call to law enforcement in emergency situations.” I don’t see how the author escalates an acceptable handing over of data when ‘the phone is used to call law enforcement’ to ‘phone carriers will open their records to law enforcement indiscriminately.’ The bill seems very restrictive to me.

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