California Senate votes down bill for mandatory anti-theft kill switches

by: Jonathan FeistApril 25, 2014


Kill Switch needed for Stolen Phones?

With hopes of saving consumers upwards of $2.5 billion per year in costs related to stolen mobile devices, a “kill switch” bill went before California state Senate this week. The bill would have made it mandatory for device manufacturers to install a method for rendering stolen devices inoperable. After the votes were tallied, 19 in favor and 17 against simply did not meet the 21 votes needed to pass the bill.

Last month, we went over many of the ins and outs of a device kill switch, answering the question of why they are not already in our smartphones. Indeed, many tools already exist that allow users to lock and wipe their data from lost or stolen mobile devices; Google, Samsung and more have even pledged to expand their kill switch functionality moving forward.

[quote qtext=”“This technology already exists, but it needs to be deployed in a way which doesn’t rely on consumers to seek out the solutions and turn them on. That’s all this legislation does.”” qperson=”San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon” qsource=”” qposition=”center”]
Instead of making a kill switch a mandatory inclusion to smartphones, the denial of this bill places the onus on the end user to learn the apps, features and tools that are available to protect their devices and the sensitive personal data contained within. Manufacturers and carriers are not obligated to provide tools to help this process.

The folks that voted against this bill suggest that the language is too vague, written in such a way that would require anti-theft measures installed on a range of devices, not just smartphones. Further speculation suggests pressure from the mobile carriers to turn down this bill, these same companies collect upwards of $2 billion per year selling handset insurance to consumers.

emergency kill switch Credit: dumbledad

Despite defeat, California Senator Mark Leno is apparently optimistic that his sponsored bill will be passed into law when next put to vote in legislature. Before the next vote, it may be wise for all involved to take a look at South Korea, which enacted a similar law last year.

We have already asked if you would want an anti-theft kill switch in your devices. At the time of writing, your opinion would flip the California Senate vote, with 66% in favor, 34% against, or roughly a 24 yes vote, enough to pass the bill into law. Let us ask more specifically this time, do you think manufacturers and carriers should be responsible for including these tools, or should it remain up to the user to protect themselves?

  • PAA

    YES we want manufacturers to preinstall kill switches. This will benefit the consumers 100%. Obviously it won t benefit the insurance companies the phone companies and the electronics stores. Hopefully thieves have no influence on politicians. This vote shows the dirty politics behind every law.

    • Jonathan Feist

      PAA, although I 100% agree in the use of kill switches, do you really think that manufacturers should be the ones installing them? There are a number of tools out there, and more on the way, should users be responsible for protecting themselves?

      • TheGCU

        I’m tired of people being coddled. There are plenty of killswitch methods already available. It should be up to the users to learn how to protect themselves. That’s what’ll help solve security problems, not hand holding.

        • Guest123

          Can you point me to a kill switch method that renders the phone totally unusable? As far as I know they will just wipe the device of your stuff, and the thief can easily root & ROM to their hearts content, and use it on other carriers, thus the reason we see so many bad IMEI phones on ebay — easy enough to find a carrier it will work on, especially prepaid.

          • TheGCU

            If your phone get stolen, just phone your carrier and have them blacklist the IMEI number of the phone. Then nobody can use it on any carrier. Instant killswitch.

          • John Doe

            Most phones are locked to a specific carrier, but that does not stop the thief from rooting/unlocking the phone for use on any carrier, and as far as I know carriers do not share blacklists and these list are not available in other countries where most of the phones end up.

          • TheGCU

            Most phones stay incountry because of frequency differences. My Canadian phone won’t work in China or India for example. But that’s beside the point. The vast majority of people lose their device through carelessness, not armed robbery. If people took the most basic steps, like not leaving your phone lying on on the tabletop at the restaurant, this wouldn’t be a problem. It’s not the laws responsibility to save people from their own stupidity.

          • K2

            ”The vast majority lose their phones due to carelessness not armed robbery”, can you provide evidence to back this statement?

        • John Doe

          And on the same note lets get rid of police too, as with the second amendment we can also all look after ourselves … lol

          • TheGCU

            People like you are exactly what’s wrong with discussions and commentary. You can’t take what we’re talking about here and apply it to something completely different. This has nothing to do with the Second Ammendment or protecting society from violence. This has to do with people knowing how to properly use a product they use everyday. Most people have a computer but are absolutely clueless as to the basics of using a computer for anything other than email and porn. We don’t need a law for this (or many other things), just common sense. Just read the manual, and put your phone where it belongs: in your pocket. How many times do I go to a bar and people just leave their phones out on the table for anyone to grab?

            BTW, how’s everybody having a gun to “protect themselves” working out for you? Not well at all. Any way you look at it, your example doesn’t apply or it just doesn’t work.

          • John Doe

            What % of people actually know how to properly use their smart phones? In my line of work (IT), not many (80% don’t have a clue!!). It is these users (80%) that need to have something automatically added to their phones to help them combat stupidity. We need to help people with technology, because they cannot do it themselves. And it is not because they leave their phones lying around, but to stop the everyday thieves from stealing them out of our hands at knife/gun point, a swarming, etc
            Most of us smart people understand what we needed to do to protect our phones. This is for the large % of people that do not!
            Just because you might be a rocket scientist does not mean the rest of the general public is!

          • TheGCU

            You combat stupidity with education, not legal measures. Most people can’t be bothered to learn how to use their device properly; it’s not that they’re incapable of learning. Stop holding the hands of the stupid. Time for them to smarten up.

          • John Doe

            And that is not going to happen anytime soon .. ? Love your dream, but the reality of it is flawed ..

          • TheGCU

            It’s not my problem that most people can’t be bothered. Laws are not the answer.

      • Michael Samsara

        This is one of them thar sticky questions; one of those conundrum causing, close to perfectly perplexing situations you hear tell about – a damned if we do and damned if we don’t type of quandary. (Yes, I know, I do go on, but what’s the fun of writing with deadly seriousness if you can’t have fun? I am a Sophist – in the good sense of the word – as we were characterized before Socrates and his band of merry, sit on your ass, philosophizing about rather than actually engaging life – fools came along. Think Protagoras.)

        Anyway, On the one hand – as previously discussed in your article about how Google – without warning – is now making it difficult – if not impossible – to use ES File Explorer or any similar app to alter certain personal files on one’s micro-SD card, we are back in “Freedom to do as I damn well please – or not” territory.

        Do we allow “big brother” to have one more control over our lives – literally the power to cut off at a moments notice our communication life line – should we be deemed a “threat”? If I had been a Middle Eastern or African despot like Gaddafi prior to his much deserved, too long forestalled – horrible yet perhaps still too gentle – demise; I would have loved to have had a kill switch I could throw and stop people from coordinating their movements – so I could then hunt them down.

        But then again, on the other hand, we have a theft problem. One that is making a lot of people a lot of money – including, but not limited to, the thieves, the manufacturers of replacement phones, the carriers with their insurance plan monthly fees to list the usual suspects only.

        What will we do, what will we do?

        Ah, maybe give people the option? Have such a switch incorporated but absolutely, positively NOT activated – nor able to be activated – without the express permission and knowledge aforehand of the
        phone’s owner – either given or denied in writing at the time of purchase.

        I think the legislature did the right thing. Surprising actually that a legislature in California of all places actually voted against more government intrusion.

        I think that the argument people are too dumb – and let’s face it that is what they are saying – is a specious, contrived one born of prosecutors wanting a quick fix to a problem that will help save them work while potentially infringing on individual freedom of action and our ability in one more area to be allowed to think for ourselves.

        • Jonathan Feist

          It appears we are most all in agreement, a kill switch is an important tool, but ultimately one that should be implemented and controlled by the individual user.

    • Guest123

      “Hopefully thieves have no influence on politicians.”

      Politicians are thieves. Why do you think they went into politics? Legal thievery.

    • Thiscommentsysblows

      You can still sell the screen, battery , housing, buttons (especially with sensors) as replacement parts online completely untraceable even if the kill switch fried the main board.. THIS WILL NOT STOP THEFT!!!

      How much anti car theft tech is there? Much more sophisticated and available for many years.. This is a fools errand

  • paxmos

    I hereby vote down this bill with consumer’s interest at heart obviously.

  • Dave

    Do you seriously want Uncle Sam telling companies how to build their products? Despite the fact that I *want* a kill switch, I find this type of legislation to be an over reach of power.

    • TheGCU

      There are already several killswitch methods available. How many do you need?

  • dev

    So people can figure out how to download every dumb game on their phone, but to download an app that would protect their device… information overload! Quit babying people and allowing them to play the victim. If their device gets stolen, why wasn’t it in your pocket? Would you just leave your wallet laying around where anybody could grab it? If so, you deserve what you get.

    • rp

      Perhaps it was in their pocket, but a gun to the head or knife to the throat can easily get it out.

      • Andrew T Roach

        You know that’s less than 1% of cases. The vast majority of people leave it on the table top like idiots. We all know that. And that’s not my damn problem. Take responsibility for losing your own phone.

  • Brandon Power
  • Andrew T Roach

    Dumb people leaving their phones on tabletops are the problem. There’s nothing more rude than trying to talk to someone who’s anxiously waiting for texts like a crack addict. And it’s a hundred times easier to lose leaving it up there. So put it in your pocket….if it fits.

    I have absolutely no interest in being forced to install a potential back door that can literally disable my phone. Let me make my own choices.

  • BMF

    WOW! There still might be hope for California. This decision, although close, allow Californians the freedom to choose to protect their devices. Isn’t this the way we deal with PC and laptops? It’s never been mandatory to install anti virus or malware detection on your equipment. But, I’m sure most private computers have something.