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California Governor Brown signs cell phone 'kill switch' into law

updated 07:20 pm EDT, Mon August 25, 2014

Senate passed the bill earlier this month, office announces bill signed today

The office of California Governor Jerry Brown announced that bill SB 962 was signed today, making cell phone "kill switches" mandatory in the state. While the bill won't go into effect immediately, manufacturers must have the kill switches in place for all smartphones made after July 1, 2015. It was widely believed that Governor Brown would sign the bill after it was sent to his office after passing through the Senate on August 12.

California becomes the second state to sign a "kill switch" bill into law, following the law that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed on May 14. Like the California bill, Minnesota's SF1740 takes effect for all phones produced after July 1, 2015. California's bill differs as the "kill switch" must be activated be default.

SB 962 was authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) as a way to make the "kill switch" mandatory for future phones. Without the program being pervasive across all phones, Leno didn't believe that it would be effective. The bill was originally introduced in February, and received very little resistance on its journey through the Senate. After passing the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications committee, it failed its first vote on April 24, only to pass every vote with amendments until August 11.

The idea is that the bill will add a theft deterrent to phones, therefore making smartphones less valuable to thieves. The bill requires that an anti-theft measure be implemented, in either software, hardware or both. If a device is stolen, users would then be able to render the device inoperable if an unauthorized person tries to access it. It would also have to persist if a phone is subjected to a hard reset and prevent reactivation. Users would be able to "disable or opt-out of the technological solution at any time."

It also puts fines in place for the retail sale of devices that are in violation of the bill. Civil penalties are to be no less than $500 with a maximum of $2,500 for each violation. The civil aspects can only be enforced by government attorneys, so private citizens would not be able to go after the companies selling devices. The bill does not apply to tablets.

Crime involving smartphones has become a problem for the United States. Consumer Reports stated that smartphone related crime was on the rise when it reported the difference in its findings from 2012 to 2013. While 1.6 million phones were stolen in 2012, the number nearly doubled to 3.1 million stolen in 2013. Smartphones are often seen as a target of opportunity as thieves can quickly turn the devices around for cash. However, the have a secondary appeal as well, as the information can often lead thieves to a bigger payoff if the data can be accessed.

The signing of the bill comes after the top cellular carriers in the United States voluntarily agreed to take part in a program with the CTIA. The "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntarily Commitment" outlined a tool that could be downloaded or pre-loaded in phones. While it was said to be an opt-in system, Apple, Asurion, Google, HTC, Huawei, LG, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia and Samsung all participated in the commitment.

by MacNN Staff



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