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California ‘Kill Switch’ Bill Targets Smartphone Theft

Privacy Telecommunications
By Albert Chen – Edited by Andrew Spore S.B. 962, 2014 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Cal. 2014) Bill [caption id="attachment_4034" align="alignleft" width="150"] Photo By: Intel Free Press - CC BY 2.0[/caption] On February 6, 2014, California State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 962. The bill would mandate that all smartphones sold in California must be equipped with a “kill switch,” allowing consumers to disable a lost or stolen phone. S.B. 962 at 1. The bill aims to deter phone thefts, which account for one in three robberies in the United States. Id. at 2. California State Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner said she will carry the bill, if it clears the Senate, reports SFGate. According to Mashable, if the bill passes, California would lead the nation in requiring anti-theft technology for smart phones. Ars Technica speculates that, due to California’s size, this may lead to a de facto standard nationwide. Under the bill, the “kill switch” must be capable of disabling voice communication, Internet access and use of applications. Id. at 4. Furthermore, the technology must withstand a factory reset. Id. Companies that sold phones without the technology would be face fines of up to $2,500 for each device sold. Id. at 5. Cell phone theft is salient in San Francisco, where it accounts for 67 percent of robberies. Senator Leno, emphasized that, “[t]his is a crime of convenience, and if we end the convenience, we end the crime.” The bill is sponsored by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón. Together with New York State Attorney Eric Schneiderman, Gascón launched the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative in July, notes San Francisco Business Times BizTalk. He has been an avid proponent of the “kill switch” technology. However, The bill faces resistance from CTIA, a wireless providers trade group representing, among others, AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile. Replacement of lost and stolen phones was a $30 billion business in 2012. S.B. 962 at 2. Last year, wireless providers made more than $7.8 billion from theft and loss insurance. Id. “Kill switches could lead to unintended consequences for our customers, reputable recycling programs and legitimate used or trade-in devices,” said Sprint spokeswoman Crystal Davis. The New York Times Bits reports that CTIA expressed worry of security risks from hackers. The group prefers other methods, such as the stolen phone blacklist database they helped create. Law enforcement officials have expressed that the national database is not enough because many stolen phones are sold outside the United States.