Minnesota mandates smartphone 'kill switch'

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A new law in Minnesota will soon require all smartphones bought in the state to include a way to disable them when they are lost or stolen. Similar protections are sought in California and Congress.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law a bill that mandates cellphone companies selling smartphones and connected tablets in Minnesota to include “kill switches” for their devices beginning July 1, 2015.

The 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, about one-third of robberies in the U.S. involve phone theft. Lost and stolen mobile devices cost consumers more than $30 billion a year ago.

The governor said Minnesota’s first-of-its-kind law also addresses safety concerns for cellphone owners.

“This law will help combat the growing number of violent cellphone thefts in Minnesota,” Dayton said at the bill signing ceremony.

Previously SF1740, the new law also forbids retailers from paying cash for electronic devices. Records must also be kept of transactions involving the devices.

California lawmakers are also addressing concerns about the growing trend of cellphone theft.

The state Senate voted 26-8 to send a bill to the Assembly that would require manufacturers to install and activate a shut-off function in all smartphones sold in the state by next summer.

SB962 was amended to exempt tablets.

The wireless industry opposes efforts at the state level to mandate kill switches. Instead, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association touts a recently announced agreement with the nation’s largest providers to make deactivation technology a standard option on new phones by next year.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said the industry’s agreement doesn’t go far enough. Instead of making the software voluntary for smartphone owners, his bill would require a kill switch to be the default setting.

“Nothing less will solve the problem,” Leno stated.

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