Bill Would Allow Government to Locate People With Tracking Devices

Measure intended to protect people with disabilities who have wandered away

Parents with their daughter, who has autism spectrum disorder / AP
December 11, 2016

A bill meant to help those with developmental disabilities would allow government agencies to locate people with tracking devices, which has some concerned the measure gives the federal government too much authority and power.

In 2008, Kevin Curtis Wills, a 9-year-old boy with autism, jumped into a river near a park and drowned. In 2014, a 14-year-old boy with autism, Avonte Oquendo, left his school and drowned in a river.

Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), who chairs the Congressional Autism Caucus and the Alzheimer's Disease Task Force, introduced a bill called Kevin and Avonte's Law, otherwise known as H.R. 4919, in an attempt to prevent these types of accidents from happening.

The legislation would permit the Justice Department to award grants to law enforcement agencies and non-profits for training and tracking devices to find individuals with autism or seniors with Alzheimer's who have wandered away.

"We all empathize with a parent who learns that their child is missing, including and especially when that child has autism or another developmental disability," Smith said. "When children with a disability or seniors with Alzheimer's do wander, time and training are essential to ensure their safe return."

The bill would reauthorize the Missing Alzheimer's Disease Patient Alert Program for five years and annually fund it for $2 million. The program would be expanded to include children with autism and renamed as the Missing Americans Alert Program.

The bill has garnered the support of Democrats who say it would promote public safety and address the critical need of being able to locate these individuals.

However, some are concerned the measure goes too far. The bill's original language authorized the Attorney General to insert tracking chips into individuals involuntarily.

"It is almost too absurd to believe that it is true, but the House Judiciary Committee is considering H.R. 4919 that would allow for the Attorney General to authorize tracking chips to be inserted involuntarily into people who are incapacitated with Alzheimer's and other fatal dementias," said Rick Manning, the president of Americans for Limited Government, at the time.

According to a staffer who is familiar with the legislation, the language in the bill has been changed to ensure that tracking devices are not invasive or permanent, and would be voluntary. The government would also be prevented from making a database. The attorney general would still be able to decide who could receive these tracking devices and would have access to the data.

"The new language calls for 'non-invasive and non-permanent types of tracking devices,'" said Robert Romano, senior editor of Americans for Limited Government. "But that is still not good enough. There shouldn't be any bill, because there shouldn't be a program, no matter how well-intentioned, overseen by the attorney general electronically tracking people in this manner."

"The legislation still represents vast overreach by the federal government as none of this is necessary, when individuals, families and doctors can decide to use such non-invasive products on their own, like Angel Sense, under individual, limited circumstances when it is medically necessary to track patients who many become lost due to a lack of mental capacity," Romano said.

Published under: Health Care