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Dog's death leads to a push for quicker tracing of cellphones

September 4, 2008 |  5:00 pm

After her SUV, phone and dog were stolen at a cemetery last month, Hemet resident Mary Michael tried to get Verizon to track the phone in the vehicle carrying her beloved pet, Rebel.

Verizon said it couldn't do so without a warrant. Rebel was found dead, prompting Michael to take aim at that regulation, The Times' David Kelly reports:

A distraught Michael said Rebel would be alive today if Verizon hadMary_michael_with_rebel_photo traced the cellphone  she had left inside the car.

"They could have saved Rebel's life," she said Tuesday during a news conference outside Riverside County Superior Court. "It's my phone. It has GPS capability. We should be able to use it."

Michael, who is originally from London and lives in Hemet, has started a campaign to make such tracking easier. Many wireless companies now require warrants before tracing phones, but Michael argues that obtaining a warrant takes too long when a life hangs in the balance.

Verizon spokesman Ken Muche said state and federal privacy laws make it impossible to trace a phone without a court order. He said criminals and stalkers had impersonated customers in the past to try to find cellphone users.

"We work with law enforcement and will respond to requests from the court like subpoenas and warrants," Muche said. "We have a policy in place so our customer service people are not in a position of having to determine a person's identity."

Had Verizon traced the phone, it could have pinpointed the location as close as 50 to 100 yards, he said.

That was cold comfort to Michael. "If this had been done, Rebel would not have had to suffer, and we would not be going through the pain of losing her in this terrible way," she said. "I can't bear to think of what she went through during those last hours. I can't go there, it's too horrible."

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times

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