Federal Law Could Mandate Smartphone ‘Kill Switches’ on All Devices

February 14, 2014 - Written By Cory McNutt

The topic of smartphone theft and how to prevent it has finally reached the federal government level in the quest to somehow slow down what has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. Just last week, tired of waiting for the smartphone manufacturers to do something themselves, California was introducing their own bill to prevent the sale of smartphones in California that do not have a ‘kill switch’ built-in to them. This bill, if passed, would certainly affect all smartphones sold in the U.S., as no manufacturer would want to build two different models – one for California sale only and another for the rest of the country.

The Smartphone Theft Prevention Act, jointly sponsored by U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) would federally require a ‘kill switch’ on each smartphone sold in the U.S. This bill has the backing of Major Cities Chiefs Association, members of the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative including founders New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gasc³n, as well as Consumers Union. The proposal states:

The Smartphone Theft Prevention Act would require all phones sold in the United States to include kill switch type technology free of charge that would allow the consumer to wipe their personal data off the phone, render the phone permanently inoperable to anyone but the owner, and prevent it from being reactivated on a network by anyone but the owner.’

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that 30 to 40-percent of all robberies nationwide involve cellphone theft, and around major cities, that figure is much higher. Michael Altschul, senior vice president and general counsel for CTIA, an international organization that represents the wireless communication industry, claims that ‘kill switches’ are not the answer – instead, they are working with law enforcement to build a nationwide database to track the stolen phones. However, most phones stolen are immediately shipped overseas, where a database would be of no value. Smartphones are now being moved within the drug cartels because they already have the network and connections in place and the penalties are nothing compared to trafficking drugs.

Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel for Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports stated:

“Smartphone theft is growing into an epidemic. It costs consumers billions of dollars a year, and puts their personal information at serious risk. If your smartphone is stolen, you should be able to shut down the device and delete your personal data remotely. This bill provides consumers a ‘kill switch,’ and importantly, it allows them to reactivate a phone if it’s recovered. This bill protects consumers against smartphone thieves and cracks down on the secondary market where stolen phones are sold.”

Let us know on our Google+ Page if you think this ‘kill switch’ is a good idea and if you would like to see it initiated on all smartphones. Are you a little disappointed that the manufacturers have not done this on their own, without the government mandating it into law.