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Should Smartphones Have a Built-In Kill Switch?

February 10, 2014  |  5:31pm
Should Smartphones Have a Built-In Kill Switch?

A new law put forward in California would make it mandatory for smartphone manufacturers to include robust theft protection security on each phone or face a fine of up to $2,500 per device.

The proposal suggests that all phones come with a “kill switch,” which would render the phone unusable if it was stolen. San Francisco Senator Mark Leno and District Attorney George Gascón announced the legislation, claiming it will shut down the market for stolen devices.

If passed, the law would require all smartphones sold in California to come equipped with the kill switch solution, where a user can have their phone totally locked down if it is stolen, which makes it unusable and impossible to sell. Lawmakers hope to pass the legislation, with it coming into effect on Jan 1, 2015, and failure to comply will result in a fine of $2,500 per phone.

“This legislation will require the industry to stop debating the possibility of implementing existing technological theft solutions, and begin embracing the inevitability. The wireless industry must take action to end the victimization of its customers,” said Gascón in an official statement.

The statement refers to the growing “epidemic” of smartphone thefts and makes mention of figures from Consumer Reports in 2012 that says 1.6 million Americans were victims of phone theft.

Gascón and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had previously spoken with representatives from Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft on implementing a kill switch, which the respective manufacturers did not get on board with.

The law, if passed, only covers California and it would be impractical for phone makers to focus on manufacturing devices with features just for California, meaning if the law is passed, it would essentially affect companies on a national basis. The kill switch may also affect the insurance policies that manufacturers have in place for consumers.

CTIA, which represent providers like AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, has not accepted the proposal either, stating that such a solution will leave phones vulnerable to hackers.

Manufacturers have made their own efforts to protect data after a theft such as iOS 7’s Activation Lock, which requires users to set a passcode for reactivation, while CTIA runs a stolen phone database that allows operators to track stolen devices and block their usage.

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