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California passes mandatory 'kill switch' legislation for smartphones

updated 01:57 am EDT, Tue August 12, 2014

Brown likely to sign into law; iOS devices are already compliant

The California state Senate has passed a bill requiring cellphone manufacturers to implement, and providers to activate, a "kill switch" that can be triggered remotely in the case of theft that renders the phone inoperable and unable to be reactivated. Owners of the iPhone are long familiar with these abilities, as Apple has offered them as opt-in features for some time, but the requirement that it be activated when users sign up for service will be new to many.

The intent of the bill, which California Governor Jerry Brown is likely to sign, is to make smartphones less valuable to thieves and make recovery easier. A similar bill has been introduced in the US Congress. Apple's implementation in iOS, known as Find My iPhone (though it applies equally to iPads, the iPod touch, and Macs), ties into the iCloud service to locate missing or stolen devices (provided they are on and using cellular or Wi-Fi data).

Users who sign in to iCloud and use the Find My iPhone service can put the missing device into "Lost Mode" (which disables functionality and flashes a message), or even erase the device remotely. In iOS 7, Apple added Activation Lock -- a feature that could go beyond just erasing the device to protect personal data, and render the iOS device useless for re-activation until the original owner's Apple ID password (or Touch ID) is utilized.

Most major cellphone manufacturers, as well as the top five major US cellular providers, had previously signed on to an industry group lobbying for such measures, though the CTIA proposal was originally opt-in only. State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) introduced a bill to make the activation of the "kill switch" technology mandatory. Other states, particularly New York, are expected to pass similar measures.

by MacNN Staff



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