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California legislature rejects smartphone 'kill switch' bill

updated 09:48 am EDT, Fri April 25, 2014

Opposition claims tech would create security problems

California's state Senate has narrowly rejected a bill that would've made "kill switch" anti-theft software mandatory on all new smartphones, reports say. A majority actually voted in favor, at a ratio of 19 to 17 with one abstaining, but the pro faction required a minimum of 21 votes. The bill was championed by Sen. Mark Leno, and San Francisco district attorney George Gascon, the latter of whom has campaigned heavily alongside New York attorney general Eric Schneidermann to get smartphone makers to implement better anti-theft measures.

Leno claims that "the game is not yet over," and has promised to revive efforts next week. "This [kill switch] technology exists, and until it is pre-enabled on every new phone purchased, consumers will continue to be the innocent victims of thieves who bank on the fact that these devices can be resold at a profit on the black market."

The CTIA -- which represents the cellular industry -- has been generally opposed to mandatory kill switches, claiming for instance that they might allow hackers to remotely destroy a person's data. Last week it announced a voluntary pledge under which some smartphone makers and carriers -- including Apple, Samsung, Google, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint -- will make a "baseline anti-theft tool" preloaded or available for download. That policy may effectively cover the status quo however, since the majority of US phones are based on iOS or Android, both of which have integrated anti-theft measures but which are off by default.

The defeated bill was actually amended to be limited to smartphones, and only take effect for devices built after July 1st 2015. Originally it would've covered tablets as well, and applied to any phone sold (not just built) after January 1st. This wasn't enough to appease the senators against the bill, who said it would hurt business and drive away companies that are central to the California economy. Sen. Jean Fuller additionally claimed that thieves might still steal phones for their parts, and suggested that "the sale of parts" should be made illegal.

by MacNN Staff



  1. pairof9s

    Senior User

    Joined: 01-03-08

    That logic of "crooks will still..." that I've heard for numerous issues is such bull! If a measure such as this, for example, reduces thefts by 50-60% then that has to be seen as worthy until a "better mouse trap" is available. It's ridiculous to simply maintain status quo while trying to find the perfect (unattainable) solution.

  1. Inkling

    Senior User

    Joined: 07-25-06

    This is actually good and not just because a kill switch could be abused by criminals or a repressive government. A lot of us who live outside California are ticked off that the state's officials and legislators want to use the state's size to bully the rest of us into behaving like they want. (Given the state's many woes, it needs to learn some humility.) This is the sort of measure than needs a federal solution not a perhaps ill-designed state one that gets imposed, de facto, on the rest of us.

  1. sibeale1

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 02-23-06

    Inkling: Californians are generally more enlightened than citizens of other states. They believe that the government has an obligation to make things better for them, not just sit by and let the law of the jungle prevail. Look carefully and you'll discover that California has far fewer woes than many less well developed states. The kill switch idea has plusses and minuses, but it's not an attempt by the "gument" to make us "behave the way they want". Grow up.

  1. pottymouth

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 11-19-03

    We need not politicize this or make it a battle between states. I'm with pairof9s; this option may not be 100% effective, but it's a great step in the right direction and will take very little effort to put in place.

    The arguments against it are garbage.

  1. DiabloConQueso

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 06-11-08

    While I don't disagree with what you've said, can you explain "will take very little effort to put in place?" Are you talking about the legislation, or the actual implementation, both from the standpoint of the carriers as well as the hardware manufacturers?

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