Ohio bill would allow parents to snoop on kids' calls, emails

State Rep. Brian Hill says the bill would allow parents to keep better tabs on their children's online activity.

Parents would be allowed to spy on their children's phone calls and emails in certain situations under a bill proposed by an Ohio lawmaker.

State Rep. Brian Hill, R-Zanesville, wants to amend Ohio's wiretapping law to make it legal for parents, guardians and legal custodians to electronically eavesdrop on their kids’ communications, provided the interception "is made in good faith for the protection of the child." The law would only apply to children under 18.

"While the Internet provides useful tools for the young people of Ohio and opportunities for learning, cultural expansion and social networking, there are also definite risks. Too often we hear stories about adults who seek to harm children through inappropriate contact made over the Internet," Hill told the state House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 6

"In light of these stories … it is important that we have necessary laws in place so parents have the ability to protect their children from those who wish to do them harm. This bill will support parents who seek to protect their children by remaining vigilant over their child’s online activity."

House Bill 15 is similar to legislation Hill introduced last year that unanimously passed the Ohio House but stalled in the Senate.

Hill said he decided to act after hearing about an incident in his district in Coshocton County in which a man and an underage girl were having an inappropriate relationship. The girl's father installed a monitoring device on the family's computer to gather evidence against the man. But no charges were filed after the father was told the monitoring was illegal and the evidence he collected was inadmissible in court, Hill said.

Hill said he reintroduced the bill this year in light of heightened concern over child safety in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December. Twenty children and six adults were killed in the Newtown, Conn., massacre.

"As a father of three young children, this issue is of special relevance to me personally," Hill said in a statement last month.

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The ACLU of Ohio hasn't taken an official position on the bill but will closely monitor its wording to make sure the list of people who are allowed to wiretap minors isn't overly broad, said Gary Daniels, ACLU associate director.

"When you leave the language open-ended it invites the possibility that people will be taking advantage of this law" in a way the sponsors never intended," he told MSN News on Wednesday.

It's currently illegal under Ohio's wiretapping law for most people outside of law enforcement, including parents, to intercept "wire, oral or electronic communications."  Violators can face up to 18 months in prison

Some parents say Hill's bill would allow them to keep closer tabs on their children.

Lisa Weimer of Poland, Ohio, mother of a 14-year-old, said a law allowing a parent's computer-monitoring evidence in court is common sense.

“If someone was doing something inappropriate, then absolutely, I would want it used in court,” she said, according to vindy.com, the website of The Vindicator from Youngstown, Ohio.

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