Smartphone Kill Switches to Fight Crime in California

California will require all smartphones to have a kill switch
On Monday, California became the first state to require smartphone manufacturers to build kill switches into all smartphone devices that are released after 2015. Unsurprisingly, the smartphone industry protested the law change, with PC Mag noting that the players in the wireless industry “fought the kill-switch bill, at first saying the proposal was technically unfeasible, prohibitively expensive, and rife for abuse by hackers.”

But the decision was made regardless, and Gov. Jerry Brown, hopes it will prevent smartphone theft which is rife in the country’s busiest state. The bill itself requires that anti-theft technology like “kill switches” be built into smartphones. And that activation information be readily available to consumers upon purchase of the devices.

Manufacturers can answer the bill’s requirements with both software and hardware solutions or a combination of both. As long as the device can be rendered inoperable if stolen or lost. The key theft prevention measure is to make sure the device is not vulnerable to a hard reset and can only be activated by the authorised user.

Reuters reports comments from bill author, Sen. Mark Leno, “California has just put smartphone thieves on notice. Our efforts will effectively wipe out the incentive to steal smartphones and curb this crime of convenience, which is fuelling street crime and violence within our communities.”

Their decision has come despite recent research that smartphone theft has gone down in California. Resulting in part to technology giant Apple’s release of an iOS 7 update which contained an activation lock. The simple software-based solution requires an Apple ID and password to reactivate the phone once it has been wiped or reset.

But the problem is not just in California. Reuters reports National Consumers League statistics which show that “handheld devices were stolen from 1.6 million Americans in 2012” and “Smartphone theft accounts for more than half of all crimes in San Francisco, Oakland and other cities.”

Minnesota did pass a theft prevention law in May, but California’s new law is the only one at this stage “requiring manufacturers to notify consumers that the technology is available on their phones, hopefully prompting consumers to enable the kill switch.”

Smartphone thieves are likely to be disgruntled at the new law which will render them profitless, as inactive stolen phones and nearly worthless on the black market. Yes this law may cause a decrease in smartphone theft, but one can’t help wonder if other petty crimes will increase? Will this be the return of purse snatching and car jacking in California, or will thieves and hackers simply find a way to get around the kill-switch technology and carry on as usual?

(Photo courtesy of Health Gauge)

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2 Responses to Smartphone Kill Switches to Fight Crime in California

  1. william says:

    In theory this sounds good, but in reality it is rife with abuse potential. mark my word, it won’t be long before you read about the government taking control of people’s phones for “safety reasons”

  2. chris says:

    Apple and Android already have this capability in place. “Find My iPhone” and “Android Device Manager” already do this. But the only time people are interested in learning about backup, recovery, or remote lock/wipe options are after the device is broken or stolen.

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