Cybersecurity

Proposed law in California would mandate smartphone 'kill switch'


A proposed new law in California would require smartphone manufacturers to include a “kill switch” that would render a stolen phone inoperable.

According to Network World, the law was proposed by two San Francisco-area officials: state senator Mark Leno and district attorney George Gascón. The kill switch would wipe personal information from a stolen phone and require users to enter a password or authorization code in order to operate it. The article states that, if the bill is adopted, the added costs and difficulties associated with creating special smartphones for California could result in manufacturers deciding to adopt the kill switch as a standard feature for all phones sold in the United States.

Alongside New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, Gascón has spent months pressuring smartphone manufacturers to voluntarily adopt the kill switch. Citing a rise in violent crime relating to smartphone theft, Gascón and Schneiderman have argued that kill switches would deter criminals from stealing phones because they wouldn’t be able to operate or resell them. Network World reports that, according to Gascón, violent crimes relating to smartphone theft make up around half of all street crimes in San Francisco. On his website, Schneiderman noted that 1.6 million people had their smartphones stolen last year, and that lost or stolen smartphones cost their owners $30 billion in 2012.

After meeting with Gascón and Schneiderman in June, the two largest smartphone manufacturers, Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., offered enhanced security features for their phones. Apple unveiled the activation lock as part of its iOS7 software while Samsung included Lo-Jack for Android with its phones for a monthly subscription. According to the article, both Microsoft and Google have met with Schneiderman and Gascón, but they have been slow to offer solutions. Gascón and Schneiderman also came up empty-handed last month when they tried to get mobile carriers including Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint to approve the kill switch.

“We cannot continue to ignore our ability to utilize existing technology to stop cell phone thieves in their tracks,” Leno said in a joint statement with Gascón. “I appreciate the efforts that many of the manufacturers are making, but the deadline we agreed upon is rapidly approaching, and most do not have a technological solution in place,” Gascón said in the statement. “Californians continue to be victimized at an alarming rate, and this legislation will compel the industry to make the safety of their customers a priority.” The bill is scheduled to be formally introduced at the start of the California state senate’s legislative session next month.

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