California State Senator Pushing for Smartphone 'Kill Switch'

Saturday, 21 Dec 2013 12:53 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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A California state senator is pushing for legislation requiring smartphone makers to add "kill switch" technology to disable stolen devices, but wireless carriers and trade groups oppose his plan.

State Sen. Mark Leno, a Democrat whose district encompasses San Francisco, is working on the legislation with the city's district attorney George Gascón, reports CNN.

The issue is one Gascón has been pushing for some time. This past summer, he joined New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a "Secure Our Smartphones" initiative to respond to the rise of violent crime that's tied to smartphone theft. The kill switch technology would keep a stolen phone from ever being reactivated.

A Federal Communications Commission report says 30 percent to 40 percent of all robberies occurring nationwide involve cell phones, at a cost of more than $30 billion in 2012 alone, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

San Francisco police report that about half of all robberies last year included thefts of mobile devices. In addition, Los Angeles police report mobile phone thefts are up almost 12 percent. In many cases, people are killed while their cell phones are being stolen, CNN reports.

"Californians continue to be victimized at an alarming rate, and this legislation will compel the industry to make the safety of their customers a priority," said Gascón.

Leno said he hopes the bill will be supported by law enforcement around California.

"The rate of crimes involving phones has escalated to a point now of epidemic levels," Leno told The Chronicle. "We are talking about the safety of our communities — we are talking about violent street crimes that can be prevented."

Apple added an "activation lock" anti-theft feature to its iPhones and iPads in June,  but Android smartphones do not have that feature.

Leno and others pushing the kill switch initiative say disabling smartphones will make them less valuable to thieves because they will be unable to sell stolen devices on the black market.

But wireless companies are not on board. Gascón said last month he was working with Samsung on the kill switch technology, but carriers told Samsung they would not allow the software.

"The technology is there — whether or not the carriers will be part of problem or part of solution is up to them," Leno said.

Wireless association CTIA told CNN it is working to create a database of stolen phones, arguing that kill switch technology would allow hackers to disable phones.

But wireless companies are against the plan because the would lose insurance plan profits if antitheft devices result in fewer stolen phones, reports The Chronicle.

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