On Monday, a California bill that would require all smartphone makers to preinstall an antitheft device that enables consumers to permanently shut down their phones (i.e. the 'kill switch') passed a final vote in the state's Senate. Before it becomes law, however, the bill must be signed by the governor, who has 12 days to take action.
Lawmakers have been calling for manufactures and wireless carriers to include antitheft technology on smartphones for some time now. The idea is to deter smartphone theft, which has been rising across the country (last year, over 3 million Americans had their smartphones stolen, up from 1.6 million Americans in 2012), particularly in tech hubs such as San Francisco and New York.
While legislation that requires smartphone manufacturers to equip devices with a kill switch already exists in Minnesota, California’s bill goes one step further: If passed, instead of simply offering the kill switch, manufacturers would be obligated to walk consumers through the setup process when they purchase a new smartphone.
If the bill is signed into law, smartphones manufactured after July 2015 and sold in California must include a preinstalled kill switch, which users will be prompted to activate when purchasing a new device.
“Our goal is to swiftly take the wind out of the sails of thieves who have made the theft of smartphones one of the most prevalent street crimes in California’s big cities,” State Senator Mark Leno, who introduced the bill, said in a statement.
For a long time the CTIA – the industry trade group that represents leading phone manufacturers and service providers – was against the kill switch, voicing concerns that it would enable hackers to remotely disable smartphones. But in April, against the backdrop of skyrocketing smartphone theft, the trade group changed its tune, and announced that over a dozen providers (including Apple, Google, Samsung, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint) will offer free downloadable antitheft devices for all new phones made after July 2015.