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Man arrested, accused of trying to track woman using Apple Watch attached to car

Cops say they saw gadget added at family safety center

A Tennessee man was arrested on Friday for allegedly trying to track his partner by attaching an Apple Watch to her car to monitor her whereabouts.

Lawrence Welch, 29, was charged with unlawfully attaching "an electronic device intended for tracking another person to a motor vehicle." An affidavit filed in Davidson County, Tennessee, describes the probable cause for his arrest, a misdemeanor violation of the state's prohibition on non-consensual vehicle tracking.

The affidavit, seen by The Register but not published as it contains sensitive identifying information, says on March 16, 2022, around 1915 EDT, police officers arrived at The Family Safety Center on Murfreesboro Pike, Nashville, in response to a call from security at the facility, which provides social services for those dealing with domestic violence. They were told that a woman who was seeking a protection order and the boyfriend she had sought protection from were both present.

The officers arrived and the woman told them that she had an intense argument with her boyfriend, Welch, alleging that he had threatened to kill her multiple times.

The woman said she had then come to The Family Safety Center and told the officers that Welch and she had used the Life360 app to keep tabs on each other's whereabouts, "but that she deactivated the app before coming to The Family Safety Center hours prior, and had been receiving texts from Welch demanding to know her whereabouts and instructing her to call him."

Welch, the affidavit says, eventually arrived at The Family Safety Center "where instead of coming inside, he approached [his girlfriend's] vehicle and squatted down beside the front passenger-side tire."

When officers inspected the vehicle, they apparently found an Apple Watch – determined to belong to Welch – strapped to one of the wheel's spokes. From this and the knowledge that Welch had been trying to ascertain his girlfriend's whereabouts, police concluded he intended to use his Apple Watch to subsequently track her.

Court records indicate that Welch is scheduled to appear in court in May to face misdemeanor domestic assault charges from last year. His court appearance for allegedly attempting to track his girlfriend's vehicle is scheduled for June.

Apple doing what it can

Apple recently implemented anti-stalking measures for its AirTag trackers because they were being misused for surreptitious surveillance. These include alerts transmitted via Bluetooth to nearby iPhones and Android phones, so mobile device owners are made aware that an active AirTag is nearby. Apple Watch, however, does not broadcast its presence in the same way.

Reached by phone, Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said she didn't have an obvious recommendation for Apple in this situation.

"It's easy to find someone who will say it's bad," she said. "It's easy to find someone who will say Apple should do something. But it's not clear to me what Apple should do in this instance. I can only say this man chose a very expensive tracking device."

The EFF on Monday described its own inquiry into an unexplained tracking device found on the car of an EFF supporter.

They determined it was an "Apollo" GPS tracker made by a company called M-Labs. The EFF went to the trouble of disassembling the tracker and delving through its data. The cyber advocacy group eventually determined that the device had been installed by the auto dealership that sold the car as an optional anti-theft service but never activated.

The EFF has called for those making physical tracking devices to develop an industry standard that allows programmers to detect tracking devices at an operating system level. But this would not necessarily offer a defense against using device finding functions to locate people. ®

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