Virginia bill would mandate smartphone 'kill switch'

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Virginia state lawmaker wants to require smartphone manufacturers to include a way to disable them when lost or stolen.

Delegate Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake, has prefiled a bill for consideration during the upcoming regular session, which would require manufacturers to either install a kill switch in all new smartphones sold in the state or add the capability of downloading a shutoff switch at no extra cost. Manufacturers must meet the requirement by summer.

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.

In California, a new rule set to take effect in July 2015 requires that new smartphones sold in the state prompt users to enable a kill switch during set-up.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said the new law 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.

The Virginia bill, HB1281, can be considered during the session that begins Jan. 14, 2015.

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