States continue pursuit of smartphone 'kill switches'

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, March 27, 2015

State lawmakers across the country are pursuing protections for consumers that would require smartphone manufacturers to add the capability of downloading a shut-off function, or “kill switch,” to all new devices sold.

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. In 2013, lost and stolen mobile devices cost consumers more than $30 billion.

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.

California and Minnesota have already adopted rules to mandate that smartphone manufacturers make the kill switch function available. The new rules in both states take effect on July 1.

So far this year, lawmakers in at least eight states have brought up bills for consideration that would impose similar rules for smartphone providers.

In Connecticut, Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said a kill switch mandate is needed.

“This would protect consumers and level the playing field so that the cost is not borne solely by the companies that voluntarily offer this extraordinarily important consumer protection,” Looney told members of the Joint Committee on General Law.

His bill would apply to all new devices sold in the state starting in July 2016. The panel voted to advance the bill, SB629, for further consideration.

Other states where bills have been brought up to address the issue include Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Virginia.

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