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​Senate bill would require smartphone ‘kill switch’ in case of theft

Published time: January 24, 2014 22:57
Reuters / Maxim Shemetov

Reuters / Maxim Shemetov

Senator Amy Klobuchar will soon introduce a bill to combat smartphone theft - a rapidly growing crime as the technology proliferates - that would require phone makers to install a “kill switch” to prohibit a stolen device’s further use.

The legislation would demand that all phones sold in the United States have technology installed that would terminate the phone’s capabilities, Wi-Fi, games, and other features once it is reported stolen. Thus far, the wireless industry has opposed such features.

Klobuchar’s bill would mandate fines or other penalties - enforced by the Federal Communications Commission - for phone makers or wireless companies that refused to comply.

The Minnesota Democrat, a former prosecutor, told the Huffington Post that the bill came about when she became aware of how many smartphone thefts occur in the US. Around 1.6 million phones were stolen nationwide in 2013, according to Consumer Reports.

"There's been a major shift,” she told Huffington Post. “And that has to do with the value of these phones.”

The FCC has found that mobile device theft makes up about 40 percent of robberies in major US cities. The number of stolen devices is on the rise in places like New York City and Washington, DC.

The resale of stolen smartphones is a major underground market, as some devices net thousands of dollars overseas - where import taxes can drive up the prices of, for example, Apple products.

Klobuchar, chair of the Senate subcommittee on consumer rights issues, said she will hold a hearing on the subject in the coming months.

The senator is not the first politician to offer a solution for the growing trend. A California State senator plans to introduce legislation requiring anti-theft technology in smartphones sold in the state.

Various law enforcement officials, including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, launched the “Secure our Smartphones” nationwide campaign last year which has pressured device manufacturers to adopt features that discourage theft.

Apple and Samsung responded by announcing new security options that they said would allow consumers to kill off their stolen phones’ capabilities. Yet the effectiveness of Apple’s features are unproven, and Samsung’s feature was rejected by wireless carriers that want to keep profits from the phone insurance they offer, according to San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, Huffington Post reported.