California One Step Closer to Mandating That All Smartphones Have Kill Switches

Details of a related bill will be revealed in San Francisco on Friday morning

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On Friday morning, a bevy of California state leaders and lawmakers will introduce a bill designed to curb one of America’s most common crimes: smartphone theft. The measure, proposed by State Sen. Mark Leno, would require that all smartphones and tablets sold in the state of California come equipped with “kill switches,” technology that would “render the device useless if stolen.”

Leno isn’t planning on telling giant companies like Apple and Samsung exactly what those kill switches have to be—whether it’s a feature that comes standard on all phones or an app—but there are certain criteria the companies will have to meet if they want to keep selling their products to consumers in America’s most populous state after Jan. 1, 2015. First, the phones and tablets must come pre-equipped with a kill switch that would give consumers a simple way to shut down all the “essential features” on their phone. Second, they must give consumers the ability to opt out of using that feature, rather than opting in.

The result, Leno says, will be that thieves presume all smartphones and tablets have a feature that will transform stolen devices into bricks, allowing only their true owners to transform them back into operational electronic products. That would in turn, he hopes, stifle the resale value of stolen devices and hopefully chill smartphone theft in cities like San Francisco, where such incidents account for 50% of all robberies. Cell phone theft accounts for one-third of robberies nationwide.

“With robberies of smartphones reaching an all-time high, California cannot continue to stand by when a solution to the problem is readily available,” Leno said in a statement. “Today we are officially stepping in and requiring the cell phone industry to take the necessary steps to curb violent smartphone thefts and protect the safety of the very consumers they rely upon to support their businesses.”

Under the proposal, if smartphone manufacturers or wireless carriers like AT&T or Verizon sell phones in California that are not equipped with a kill switch, they will be subject to a penalty. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón has suggested that big companies have been wary to install such a switch because of the lucrative market created by selling insurance products and replacing stolen phones. “The carriers are actually becoming a wall here,” Gascón told TIME in December. “And it appears that this is pretty profit motivated.”

An association which represents those carriers has said their reluctance to install a kill switch is due to the potential for such a feature to be abused by hackers and for other reasons. They and others will get a chance to have their say when hearings are held on the bill in Sacramento this spring.

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