big red button kill switch stop

Smartphone theft lends itself to some ugly looking crime statistics, and US lawmakers are determined to do something about it. After months of U-turns and political grandstanding, California has finally decided to pass a bill requiring that future smartphones sold in the state come with “kill switch” features included.

According to the bill, named SB-962, any smartphone manufactured on or after July 1st 2015 that is sold in California will have to include a software or hardware kill switch solution, to be provided by either the hardware manufacturer or the operating system provider. California joins Minnesota, which passed a bill back in May stipulating that it will be illegal to sell smartphones without anti-theft software pre-installed from July 1st 2015. Although Minnesota’s legislation is much more vague than California’s.

The specifics of the “kill switch” appear to be left up to third parties, so we will have to see how well manufacturers can agree upon the design specifics, and whether or not lawmakers will be pleased by the results. Interestingly, California’s kill switch has to be reversible, leaving questions over how secure the system will be from hackers and the most resourceful thieves.

Google, HTC, Motorola, Samsung, and others, have already signed up to a voluntary initiative with the CTIA. This initiative aims to give owners the option to lock down and remotely wipe their smartphones, and was also scheduled to go live in July 2015.

Of course there is a trade off with mandatory kill switches, as manufacturers and software developers pass the additional development costs of meeting state-by-state or national regulations on to consumers. By making it illegal to sell new phones without a kill switch, California has effectively eliminated the choice of cheaper, security feature-less smartphones for consumers. This sentiment was echoed in a statement by the CTIA:

“Today’s action was unnecessary given the breadth of action the industry has taken,”

“Uniformity in the wireless industry created tremendous benefits for wireless consumers, including lower costs and phenomenal innovation. State by state technology mandates, such as this one, stifle those benefits and are detrimental to wireless consumers.” Jamie Hastings – CTIA

Time will tell if California’s bill has the effect that lawmakers are hoping for. Is phone theft a major concern for you, and do you think that this bill will help prevent phone thefts?

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