California approves smartphone 'kill switch' mandate

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Monday, September 08, 2014

All smartphones sold in California will soon include a way to disable them when they’re lost or stolen.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law to require manufacturers to install a shut-off function, or “kill switch,” in all new smartphones sold in the state by next summer. Similar protections were recently approved in Minnesota.

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 an 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 will still be required to find, download and activate the solution themselves.

His bill requires that new smartphones sold in the state starting in July 2015 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.

“California has just put smartphone thieves on notice,” Leno said in a news release. “Our efforts will effectively wipe out the incentive to steal smartphones and curb this crime of convenience, which is fueling street crime and violence within our communities.”

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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