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Federal bill joins proposed laws for 'kill switches' on cellphones

updated 09:58 am EST, Fri February 14, 2014

Federal measure would require both kill switch and remote wipe options

Four Democractic senators -- Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) -- have introduced a bill for a federal law that would require "kill switches" on cellular devices. The bill would also require a remote wipe option, something that is already available on most smartphones through Android Device Manager or iOS' Find My iPhone. iOS 7 already includes a form of kill switch in Activation Lock, which prevents people from re-activating a phone unless they can provide the right Apple ID. The proposed legislation is similar to a bill under consideration in California.

The CTIA, a cellular industry trade association, is continuing to oppose any kill switch legislation, instead promoting the nationwide database of stolen phones it helped to create. "While Senator Klobuchar and CTIA are of like mind when it comes to wanting to prevent the theft of wireless devices, we clearly disagree on how to accomplish that goal," the CTIA says in a statement. "Rather than impose technology mandates, a better approach would be to enact Senator Schumer's legislation to criminalize tampering with mobile device identifiers. This would build on the industry's efforts to create the stolen device databases, give law enforcement another tool to combat criminal behavior, and leave carriers, manufacturers, and software developers free to create new, innovative loss and theft prevention tools for consumers who want them."

People in law enforcement have complained that a database isn't enough, since some stolen phones end up overseas, outside the reach of the database and reducing the deterrent effect. There are parties in the cellular industry -- such as T-Mobile -- that aren't opposed to kill switches, but who say they're concerned about preventing scenarios like malware being used to hijack a phone and hold it for ransom.




by MacNN Staff

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