Bill would require 'kill switch' for smartphones

12:45 AM, Dec 21, 2013   |    comments
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Two California officials have announced plans to introduce legislation requiring smartphones to have a "kill switch" that would render stolen or lost devices inoperable.

State Sen. Mark Leno and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced Thursday that the bill they believe will be the first of its kind in the United States will be formally introduced in January at the start of the 2014 legislative session.

Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, joins Gascon, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other law enforcement officials nationwide who have been demanding that manufacturers create kill switches to combat surging smartphone theft across the country.

"One of the top catalysts for street crime in many California cities is smartphone theft, and these crimes are becoming increasingly violent," Leno said. "We cannot continue to ignore our ability to utilize existing technology to stop cellphone thieves in their tracks. It is time to act on this serious public safety threat to our communities."

Almost 1 in 3 U.S. robberies involve phone theft, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Lost and stolen mobile devices - mostly smartphones - cost consumers more than $30 billion last year, according to a study cited by Schneiderman in June.

In San Francisco alone, more than 50 percent of all robberies involve the theft of a mobile device, and in Los Angeles mobile phone thefts are up almost 12 percent in the last year, the San Francisco DA's office said.

Samsung Electronics, the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer, earlier this year proposed installing a kill switch in its devices. But the company told Gascon's office the nation's biggest carriers rejected the idea.

But the CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group for wireless providers, says a permanent kill switch has serious risks, including potential vulnerability to hackers who could disable mobile devices and lock out not only individuals' phones but also phones used by entities such as the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies.

The CTIA has been working with the FCC, law enforcement agencies and elected officials on a national stolen phone database that debuted last month.

Gascon and Schneiderman have given manufacturers a June 2014 deadline to come up with solutions to curb the theft of stolen smartphones.

"I appreciate the efforts that many of the manufacturers are making, but the deadline we agreed upon is rapidly approaching and most do not have a technological solution in place," Gascon said. "Californians continue to be victimized at an alarming rate, and this legislation will compel the industry to make the safety of their customers a priority."

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