California nears smartphone 'kill switch' mandate

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/22/2014

California state lawmakers have sent a bill to the governor that would require all smartphones sold in the state to be equipped with a way to disable them when lost or stolen. Similar protections were recently approved in Minnesota.

The Senate voted 28-8 to sign off on changes to 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. Assembly lawmakers previously approved SB962 on a 53-20 vote.

The bill now awaits action by Gov. Jerry Brown.

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 consumers would still be required to find, download and activate the solution themselves.

His bill would require that new smartphones sold in the state starting in mid-2015 prompt users to enable a kill switch during setup.

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 and up to 75 percent of all robberies in Oakland are smartphone thefts. In Los Angeles, the city has seen a 26 percent increase in smartphone thefts since 2011.

“This legislation will literally stop smartphone thieves in their tracks by ensuring all new smartphones sold in California come pre-enabled with theft-deterrent technology” 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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