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.

11 comments
SelylJNala
SelylJNala

Create a code only the Owner can undo such as Last 4 of (SSN + First 4 of one of their credit or debit cards + birth month and yr + last 4 digits of someone else's phone number their close to) so it  would look more like 1234-5678-011991-9876 to reset kill switch. Mix and match it so only the person who owns the phone will know what order the numbers go in and it would make it extremely tedious to try to find all of that PII on a person to resell the phone. All in all though personally I don't think we should have to mandate it to Phone Manufacterers that they have to put it on every phone. I do think it should be a free service considering they're losing out on resale though.

Vader
Vader

Kill switches seem like a swell idea.


So why does the law have to mandate them? The law doesn't have to mandate that I put a lock on my front door.

coolmusic
coolmusic

I would be more impressed if there was a way to make the phone go dark to prevent texting while driving.

JadeNaaman
JadeNaaman

This is a terrible idea.


Giving the government (or anyone for that matter) the capability of sending a signal to your phone that will turn it into a brick? How long till it's abused by criminals, bureaucrats or some politician wanting to silence a dissident?


It seems to me that often whoever comes up with these ideas either are ignorant of how technology works, or know well but have an evil agenda to slowly erode our freedoms and further restrict our privacy. Very Orwellian at best.


This is only acceptable if it's on an opt-in basis, meaning that I have to configure my phone to accept those signals in the future, and only if it allows me to opt-out (like choosing a strong password that I would not use on a day to day basis, but only use if someone sends the signal to my phone). Basically, the true owner of the phone should be able to re-enable their phone without having to call anybody or stop by a police station and fill some form.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Katy. I'd bet enough apps, games, and high resolution photos would enough to kill many phones, no need for the fancy switches. But I like the idea - maintain control over our phones.

DumbDillyVagbarrack
DumbDillyVagbarrack

well when you have all them illegals, gangs and union types out there and lots of liberals who are used to getting stuff for nothing.. you have no choice to put responsibiity on techology companies..lord knows liberals have zero morals or ethics..it is all about destroying usa

AnonyOdinn
AnonyOdinn


In case you hadn't figured it out yet, phones are just the first step.  Pretty soon all technology in California will have a state license or requirement required prior to its use.  Those who remember their history, will likely be remembering the federal government's insistence, after discovering that thing we call "fax technology," on declaring via regulation that faxing and faxes would only be able to be conducted, or operated with the permission of, the federal government and interested states.  However, being as ordinary humans realized they could actually just ignore the federal and state's governments claims on fax technology (and being that most people probably never even heard about the US federal government's futile declarations, anyway), fax technology grew and prospered.  Today, despite the gradual abandonment of faxes for other methods of communication, it is estimated that there are still over seventeen million faxes sent per year.


And that was just the introduction of a technology that was not truly decentralized - a quick study of Bitcoin and similarly decentralized protocols reveal that the effects are even more significant.  The popular response to the State of California's resoundingly idiotic pronouncements will eventually be adoption and spread of technologies that cannot be controlled by the State of California.  There will be Nevadaphones, bitphones, video and audio OTR messengers installed in systems built on Arduino.  There will be widespread rejection of corporate systems that accept California's legal impositions, as the spread of open source continues:  Free and open source systems that are fully auditable by the user and can be readily liberated from state control already make up much of the market:  Just as an example, in 2009, Android was 2.9% market share, and it is now over 81% of market share, with a couple million new activations per day.   Statists may whine and plead, but they cannot beat our math.  Make a new law, and we'll provide the users with a way to circumvent it.


California is becoming more nightmarish daily, as the "Legislature" trundles down the path of mindless statist abandon. However, there are solutions to this problem, some of which have been mentioned above. Perhaps the end of the "state" as we know it is closer than we think.

ahandout
ahandout

Better idea: The ability to turn a RFID chip and track down the theif, put him in jail and eliminate criminals from the streets.  Otherwise, they will just find something else to steal.


Meanwhile, California refuses to build prisons, and is releasing dangerous felons back onto the streets to commit more crime.

BrynnDiesel
BrynnDiesel

@JadeNaaman
"Giving the government (or anyone for that matter) the capability of sending a signal to your phone that will turn it into a brick? How long till it's abused by criminals, bureaucrats or some politician wanting to silence a dissident?" A bit molodramatic mate, you can just use a landline :/


Your governmet already monitors all your calls and kidnaps people they want to silence. I cant really imaging giving Vodaphone the ability to brick your phone from a distance is really gonna erode your civil liberties any further...


Lionheart
Lionheart

@ahandout  Releasing dangerous felons back onto the streets will ruin California. 


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