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Smartphone ‘kill switch’ bill moves to California governor’s desk

Published time: August 12, 2014 09:49
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images / AFP

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images / AFP

In an effort to protect personal data from falling into the hands of thieves, a bill that requires mandatory technology on all smartphones sold in California is one step away from becoming law after a California Senate vote on Monday.

California legislators are attempting to deal a blow to thieves who have made smartphone theft almost an epidemic crime in America’s most populous state. Smartphone theft accounts for more than half of all crimes in some of the state's biggest cities, including San Francisco and Oakland.

“Our goal is to swiftly take the wind out of the sails of thieves who have made the theft of smartphones one of the most prevalent street crimes in California’s biggest cities,” said Democratic Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco, the bill's author.

The measure passed in the Senate with a 27 to eight vote.

Reporters robbed while working on story about 'sketchy neighborhood' app

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images / AFP
In the event that Leno's bill gets signed into law, manufacturers would be required to inform consumers that the technology is available on their smartphones, his office said, as reported by Reuters.


The bill, which now heads to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown for his signature, requires all smartphones sold in California after July 2015 to contain a pre-installed ‘kill switch’ function allowing the devices to be shut down remotely in the event of theft or loss.

The measure also requires companies to confirm the user name and password associated with any device that has been switched off before it can be activated again. Such safeguards, Leno believes, will detract from the street value of smartphones on the black market.

The legislation was supported by the California District Attorneys Association, California Police Chiefs Association and California Sheriffs Association.

The first time Leno’s bill was introduced last spring, amid vocal opposition from the communications industry, the bill failed to pass a Senate vote.

In order to appease the critics, Leno agreed to delay the bill's enforcement date to July from January 2015, and exempt tablet computers from the bill’s requirements. These changes allowed the measure to win final approval from the Senate on Monday.

“I commend the legislature for standing up to the wireless industry and voting to protect the safety of their constituents,” said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who backed the measure.

Congressmen in several states, including Illinois, New York, and Rhode Island are also considering similar legislation, as smartphone crimes continue to surge across the country.

Meanwhile, major phone makers like Apple, HTC and Samsung have already agreed to implement kill switches, and Minnesota has already enacted similar legislation. At the same time, US Congress is considering passage of the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act, which would require all phones sold in the US to include kill switch technology at no extra charge. It would then be the responsibility of the wireless companies to provide the protective technology.

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