California kills smartphone ‘kill switch’ bill

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Date: Friday, April 25th, 2014, 09:55
Category: Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Legal, Mobile Phone, News, security, Software

Back in February, State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon introduced a bill that would mandate the inclusion of a “kill switch” in phones sold in the state of California. If approved, the anti-theft feature would have been required to be preloaded and automatically enabled on all smartphones sold after January 1, 2015, leaving the phone inoperable if stolen. In a statement put out by Leno and Gascon at the time of the bill’s introduction, in San Francisco alone, cell phone thefts make up 66 percent of all robberies. Just over the bridge in Oakland, thefts are even higher to over 75 percent. The statement also said that recovering those phones cost consumers in the US more than $30 billion in 2012.

The vote, requiring a minimum of 21 votes in favor to pass, was 19 yes’s to 17 no’s, with one senator not voting. There are other state law enforcement agencies blazing a trail, with New York Attorney General Eric Schneidermann pushing for anti-theft legislature in New York. Schneidermann, along with Gascon, launched the “Secure Our Smartphones” (SOS) initiative in New York City in June, with the intent of getting kill switch features on phones. CNET, in their article about the vote, observes that the bill is meeting resistance;

“There has been pushback from the wireless carrier industry, which argues that mandating “kill switch” technology leaves consumers vulnerable to hackers who could maliciously wipe away a phone’s data. However, government officials have said the wireless industry’s resistance has to do with money, specifically losing business from insurance partners.”

Apple has already implemented a similar security feature in Find My iPhone, which was updated with an “Activation Lock” in iOS 7 that prevents someone from reactivating an iPhone or iPad after it has been wiped remotely unless they have the user’s Apple ID credentials. Currently this feature is not optional, and I don’t really see why you’d want it to be, but some legislators feel that all anti-theft measures should have an opt-out option. An opt-out ability doesn’t seem very useful since the same people who don’t use a passcode to lock their device will likely turn off the security feature which would require some kind of password. Also, part of reason to implement such a feature is to help deter theft attempts in the first place, with thieves knowing that their heist leaves them with a bricked phone that they can’t sell, use, or get information from. If the option is there to turn it off, thieves will still take the risk with the hope of grabbing an insecure device. Unfortunately, that’s not the only value of the phone, an issue addressed by Senator Jean Fuller;

Another concern was that the ‘kill switch’ wouldn’t be as much of a deterrent as its supporters think, as criminals would still try to get their hands on phones for the value of its hardware. “We need to make the sale of parts illegal,” Fuller told CNET, after the vote.”

This concern, however, is not held by the San Francisco District Attorney’s office which doesn’t believe that the sale of hardware is an issue. Max Szabo, legislative affairs and policy manager for the D.A’.s office, said;

“The parts market is extremely niche, and that’s not what’s driving the epidemic.”

Sen. Leno told CNET that he plans to take the bill up again next week. “The game is not yet over,” he said.

So what do you think? Should all phones have a Find My iPhone like feature, and should you be able to turn it off? Do you think it will deter thefts and make smartphone owners safer? Respond in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

 

 

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