Senate Bill Proposes Kill Switch for Smartphones and Tablets Sold in California

by Istvan Fekete on February 7, 2014

In an effort to fight device theft, California regulators will propose a bill today that would require smartphones and tablets sold in the state to have software installed allowing users to totally disable the device if it is stolen. The bill is signed by State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), San Francisco District Attorney, George Gascon, and other regulators.

The feature is often referred to as a “kill switch” and was pushed by Gascon and New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman. In fact, the demand for such a feature is huge; we just need to look into the numbers posted by the New York and San Francisco Police Departments. In 2013, iDevices accounted for more than 18% of all grand larcenies in New York; 50% of all robberies in San Francisco are smartphone related; and in neighboring Oakland, that figure goes up to nearly 75%.

From this perspective, a kill switch would be a great tool: if all mobile devices could be rendered obsolete if stolen, thieves wouldn’t bother to steal them.
There is an initiative applauded by Schneiderman and Gascon, however: Apple’s Activation Lock introduced with iOS 7, which prevents iDevice users from erasing the handset in case they don’t know the iCloud account’s password.

Schneiderman and Gascon have had a series of discussions with some of the major tech companies such as Apple, Google (via its Motorola unit, which now goes to Lenovo), Microsoft, and Samsung. Both Apple and Samsung responded with new features (Apple: Activation Lock, Samsung: Absolute Software’s Lojack service for Galaxy S4), but so did the US carriers. They said no to the Samsung “kill switch”.

US telecom companies have resisted the idea, which prompted Schneiderman to send a letter to the heads of the five largest carriers.

In the end, if the bill passes today, it will mandate a change if it wins some political support. If the reaction is positive, it will take effect starting January 1, 2015. But the question still remains open: will the other states join the initiative? If not, the kill switch initiative will have been stillborn.

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Written by: Istvan Fekete. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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