updated 03:46 pm EST, Fri February 7, 2014
San Francisco hotbed of phone theft
Democratic State Senator Mark Leno of California has introduced a bill that would require any smartphone or tablet sold in the state to include some form of "kill switch" antitheft technology, says the New York Times. The bill is being sponsored by San Francisco district attorney George Gascón, who along with the attorney general for New York has been pressuring cellphone makers to add the technology for some time. Under the proposed law, any unprotected mobile device sold in California on or after January 1st 2015 would net the vendor a fine up to $2,500 per unit.
San Francisco and New York City have had to cope with high levels of smartphone theft. In San Francisco alone, some 2,400 phones were stolen last year, a growth of 23 percent over 2012. Phones and tablets can be lucrative targets, since they're easy to take yet extremely valuable if they can be unlocked and erased. Both San Francisco and New York City are also heavily dependent on public transportation, giving thieves more chances to find targets and escape without repercussions.
The bill is unlikely to affect Apple, which implemented a feature called Activation Lock in iOS 7, on top of its existing Find My iPhone security measures. Other smartphone and tablet makers may have to make changes however, and the CTIA -- which represents phone carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile -- has opposed the concept of a kill switch, claiming that hackers could exploit it to remotely disable phones, including even military and law enforcement units. The group has also suggested that someone who retrieves his or her phone might not be able to reactivate it, but this has been disproven by Activation Lock, which simply requires the right Apple ID to make a device usable again.
The CTIA has so far helped to create a nationwide database of stolen phones, but some in law enforcement have complained that it isn't enough, especially since some phones end up overseas, outside the reach of the blacklist the database makes possible. Kill switches are intended to deter thieves from taking phones in the first place.