Bill proposed in Tallahassee to fight identity theft

A new bill proposed in Tallahassee would make it easier for law enforcement in Florida to arrest people suspected of identity theft.

The legislation would make it a crime to possess someone else’s personal information, such as a social security number, without their permission. Current law requires proof of “intent to fraudulently use” the information to make an arrest.

Rep. Larry Ahern (R-Seminole) said he filed the bill after a conversation with the Clearwater Police chief. Ahern said the goal is “to give law enforcement another tool to be able to prevent identity theft.”

“The test is, ‘Does that person know you have their identity?'” said Ahern said. “If they do and they’re OK with it, you’re fine. If they don’t and you’re not OK with it, that person will be arrested.”

Law enforcement across the Bay area have reported finding ledgers with lists of names and social security numbers on traffic stops. Current law requires them to prove the subjects intended to use the information fraudulently in order to make an arrest.

Ahern says he doesn’t think innocent people will get caught up in the law, but defense attorney and former federal prosecutor Stephen Crawford said he worries the bill may be too broad.

“May concern with this particular legislation is that they have made it so simple for law enforcement to arrest you for identity theft that they’re also criminalizing innocent conduct,” Crawford said.

The bill says officers must give subjects the chance to explain why he or she has someone else’s personal information, but Crawford said “you shouldn’t have to prove your innocence.”

The bill will be vetted in committee and could be revised in that process, Ahern said.

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