Pennsylvania bill would mandate smartphone 'kill switches'

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 11/7/2017

Pennsylvania state lawmakers could soon take up for action a bill to require smartphone manufacturers to add the capability of downloading a shut-off function, or “kill switch,” to all new devices sold.

Smartphone kill switchThe kill-switch function allows smartphone owners to remotely disable their device if it is lost or stolen, rendering it useless to thieves. Owners can later reverse the function.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, at its peak about one-third of robberies in the United States involved phone theft.

The wireless industry has opposed efforts at the state level to mandate kill switches. Instead, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association has touted an agreement with the nation’s largest providers to make deactivation technology a standard option on new phones. The action, however, is not mandatory.

California and Minnesota have adopted rules to mandate that smartphone manufacturers make the kill switch function available.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said his state’s law is making a big difference. He referred to a 50 percent decline in smartphone robberies in the two years since the Golden State enacted the kill switch mandate.

The Pennsylvania bill would also require smartphones sold in the state to be equipped with the function.

Rep. Tina Davis, D-Bucks, told her fellow lawmakers that a kill switch would assist in staunching the illicit activity often associated with the international market for stolen smartphones, often supported by organized crime groups.

She cited a news report that showed smartphone thefts dropped by about one-third from 2013 to 2014. The reduction is attributed to kill-switch laws, she added.

The bill, HB576, is in the House Consumer Affairs Committee.

The kill switch function is not the only way to protect your phone. Other methods to protect your phone:

  • Use PIN and Touch ID fingerprint functions to lock your phone, if available.
  • Enable and activate the pre-installed Find My Device for Android or Find My iPhone for Apple applications.
  • Keep all data backed up on a local computer.
  • Backup all data on a remote cloud service.

Police search prohibition
A separate bill in the House Transportation Committee addresses police power.

Sponsored by Rep. Angel Cruz, D-Philadelphia, HB658 would prohibit police from using a data extraction device to get information from an electronic device in the possession of a driver or passenger when pulled over.

Cruz explained the device as a tool to extract data from a phone such as call history, text messages, contacts, images, videos, geotags, voicemails, voice recordings, multimedia messages, and subscriber identification module data.

He said in remarks the purpose of his bill is to protect people from unwarranted violations of their constitutional rights, “which protect them from unreasonable search and seizures.”



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