May 5, 2008
The call came in to police just after midnight April 16.
Hours before, a distraught young man had phoned his mother, hinting he wanted to kill himself. When he didn’t meet her as planned, she telephoned Seattle police and reported her son missing.
Because of increasing advances in technology, officers were able to find the missing man’s cellular phone using his wireless network. Two hours after he was reported missing, the man was found alive but unwell lying on his desk and taken to University Hospital for a psychological evaluation.
The night’s incident was one of tens of thousands in which a life may have been saved because of the ability to find someone through a cell phone. But life-or-death missing persons cases remain rare, and locater technologies raise questions about warrantless searches.
Missing persons cases present an unusual problem for police — it’s not a crime to disappear. Without a crime, police can’t get a search warrant. In a criminal case, no warrant would mean no phone records for authorities.
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