Smartphone 'kill switch' bill signed into law

By Laura Dixon | Bay City News Service

A bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday (Aug. 25) should make smartphones a lot less vulnerable to prospective thieves in the Bay Area and beyond.

Authored by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, Senate Bill 962 requires all smartphones sold in the state to come equipped with anti-theft technology. The new law will take effect next July.

"Our efforts will effectively wipe out the incentive to steal smartphones and curb this crime of convenience, which is fueling street crime and violence within our communities," Leno said in a statement.

Under the new law, smartphone manufacturers will be required to equip phones sold in California with "kill switch" technology allowing the phone's owner to remotely lock and wipe their device, rendering it useless.

If the smartphone is later found, the owner can restore the phone's functionality and data.

The new legislation also requires technology that prevents a wireless device from being reactivated without the owner's identification.

According to Leno's office, some 67 percent of all robberies in San Francisco involve the theft of a mobile communications device, and in Oakland the rate is as high as 75 percent.

The number of reported victims of smartphone thefts in the U.S. doubled from 1.6 million to 3.1 million from 2012 and 2013, according to the senator's office.

A June report from the Secure Our Smartphones Coalition revealed that since Apple implemented its Activation Lock anti-theft technology, robberies of iPhones fell by 38 percent in San Francisco while the city saw thefts of Samsung phones -- which don't have kill switches -- rise by 12 percent during the same time period.

"Seldom can a public safety crisis be addressed by a technological solution, but today wireless consumers everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief," said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who sponsored the legislation.

"The devices we use every day will no longer make us targets for violent criminals," Gascon said.

Smartphone manufacturers have indicated that they plan to apply the standards required under the bill nationwide, according to Leno's office.

Since its introduction in June, the bill faced considerable opposition from some telecommunications and insurance companies.

Wireless industry membership group CTIA-The Wireless Association has said the legislation was unnecessary because the industry is already taking steps to combat theft, including the introduction next year of software that allows smartphone users to install a kill switch on their phones but doesn't include the technology as part of the phone's default setting.


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