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Could a "Kill Switch" Let Police Shut Down Protesters' Phones?

The crowds protesting in Ferguson, Missouri, over the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown are flooding Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with photos and written updates from the ground. But what if police could just shut off their phones? That is the concern some civil liberties have raised about "kill switch" laws like the one that passed Monday in California. A "kill switch" lets someone remotely shut down their phone and wipe its data — a measure that many consumer advocates say will cut down on smartphone thefts. The California bill is "not explicit about who can activate such a switch," said the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a letter, and should be modified "to regulate and limit the circumstances in which government and law enforcement officials can activate the kill switch." The Center for Democracy and Technology warned that “if the California bill were in place in Missouri, these officers might deploy the government kill switch alongside tear gas and rubber bullets.” Several federal bills requiring that kill-switch technology be installed in all new phones have been introduced in Congress.

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--- Keith Wagstaff