California bill would mandate smartphone 'kill switch'

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, July 22, 2014

An effort to require all smartphones sold in California to include a way to disable them when lost or stolen is one step closer to becoming law. Similar protections were recently approved in Minnesota.

The Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee has voted 9-2 to advance a bill that would require manufacturers to install a shut-off function, or “kill switch,” in all new smartphones sold in the state by next summer.

The bill now awaits consideration on the Assembly floor when lawmakers return on Aug. 4 from summer break. If approved there, SB962 would need Senate approval of changes before moving to the governor’s desk.

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 wireless industry has opposed efforts at the state level to mandate kill switches. Instead, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association has touted 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 his bill would require that new smartphones sold in the state prompt users to enable a kill switch during set-up.

Leno said there is no time to wait to make the change. He has referred to statistics that show 60 percent of all robberies in San Francisco are smartphone thefts and up to 75 percent of all robberies in Oakland. In Los Angeles, the city has seen a 26 percent increase in smartphone thefts since 2011.

“With the rates of smartphone theft reaching new heights in many cities across California and the nation, we are faced with the clear choice of making our smartphones less attractive to thieves,” Leno said in a news release.

A new law in Minnesota requires all smartphones bought in the state to include a way to disable them when lost or stolen. It takes effect July 1, 2015.

Already in effect is a rule that forbids retailers from paying cash for electronic devices. Records must also be kept of transactions involving the devices.

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