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Calif. Senate OKs Smartphone Kill Switch Bill

Calif. Senate OKs Smartphone Kill Switch Bill
By Seth Fitzgerald

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Smartphones are stolen in some two-thirds of all thefts in San Francisco, and that figure is even worse in some cities. More than 3 million people in the U.S. lost their smartphones to theft last year. A so-called kill switch allows smartphone owners to remotely render their devices inoperable if they are lost or stolen, limiting their value.
 


A bill mandating smartphone kill switches in California took a key step forward Thursday when the state Senate voted 26-8 to send it to the Assembly for consideration. An earlier version of the proposal failed to pass in April, but Apple, Microsoft and Google removed their opposition after the implementation deadline was pushed back to July 2015 and tablets were dropped from the bill.

The bill, SB 962, was introduced in February by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and pushed by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon as well as the California District Attorneys Association and California Police Chiefs Association. After Assembly passage, Gov. Jerry Brown must sign it to become law.

'Apple Picking'

Smartphones are stolen in some two-thirds of all thefts in San Francisco, and that figure is even worse in some cities. More than 3 million people in the U.S. lost their smartphones to theft last year. A so-called kill switch allows smartphone owners to remotely render their devices inoperable if they are lost or stolen, which limits the resale value of a phone.

"This is about making our communities safe," Leno told SF Gate. "A crime that didn't exist several years ago is rampant in our neighborhoods. Those caught and convicted refer to it as Apple picking, because it's such low fruit and it's so easy to do, and we want to make sure that convenience is taken away."

Industry Moves

With the knowledge that some sort of smartphone kill switch legislation would be impossible to avoid, the telecom industry chose to come up with its own anti-theft rules. CTIA, an industry organization, announced in April that major handset manufacturers and wireless carriers had agreed to make anti-theft software mandatory for its members by July 2015.

Members of the industry group include Apple, AT&T, Sprint and Google. All of those companies said they would make software available that can remotely wipe phones and prevent them from being used by unauthorized users. The only type of anti-theft measure that CTIA is absolutely opposed to is a permanent kill switch that prevents anyone from ever reactivating a phone.

Since the kill switch of Leno's SB 962 allows the phone's owner to reactivate the phone, it seems likely the industry and lawmakers are at least on a similar page. CTIA's positive step forward in vowing to make free anti-theft software available to customers has not gone without criticism, however. Leno opposes CTIA's approach, as in his opinion, it does not go far enough and has no legal force behind it.

Even though California's bill may push things farther than the industry is, both parties appear to be operating with customer protection in mind.
 

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