SAN FRANCISCO — Legislation unveiled Friday in California would require smartphones and other mobile devices to have a remotely activated “kill switch” or other safety feature to render them inoperable if lost or stolen – a move that could be the first of its kind in the country.
State Sen. Mark Leno, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, and other elected and law enforcement officials said the bill, if passed, would require mobile devices sold in or shipped to California to have the anti-theft devices starting next year.
Leno and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, both Democrats, co-authored the bill to be introduced this spring. They joined Gascon, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other authorities who have been demanding that manufacturers create kill switches to combat surging smartphone theft across the country.
Leno and Gascon said they believe the bill would be the first of its kind in the U.S. Gascon and Schneiderman have given manufacturers a June 2014 deadline to come up with solutions to curb the theft of smartphones.
CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group for wireless providers, says a permanent kill switch has serious risks, including potential vulnerability to hackers who could disable mobile devices and lock out not only individuals’ phones but also phones used by entities such as the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and law enforcement.
The association has been working on a national stolen-phone database that launched in November to remove any market for stolen smartphones.
“These 3G and 4G/LTE databases, which blacklist stolen phones and prevent them from being reactivated, are part of the solution,” Michael Altschul, CTIA’s senior vice president and general counsel, said in a statement. “Yet we need more international carriers and countries to participate to help remove the aftermarket abroad for these trafficked devices.”
Almost one in three U.S. robberies involve phone theft, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Lost and stolen mobile devices – mostly smartphones – cost consumers more than $30 billion in 2012, the agency said in a study.
Gascon said the industry makes an estimated $7.8 billion selling theft and loss insurance on mobile devices but must take action to end the victimization of its customers.