Smartphone Stolen? Calif. Bill Would Make 'Kill Switch' Mandatory

Image: Smartphone user
Officials in California have proposed a bill that would make anti-theft kill switches mandatory on mobile devices. Jim Mone / AP

SAN FRANCISCO — Legislation unveiled Friday in California would require smartphones and other mobile devices to have a "kill switch" to render them inoperable if lost or stolen — a move that could be the first of its kind in the country.

State Sen. Mark Leno, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and other elected and law enforcement officials said the bill, if passed, would require mobile devices sold in or shipped to California to have the anti-theft devices starting next year.

Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley co-authored the bill to be introduced this spring. They joined Gascon, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other authorities who have been demanding that manufacturers create kill switches to combat surging smartphone theft across the country.

Leno called on the wireless industry to step up as smartphone robberies have surged to an all-time high in California.

"They have a choice. They can either be a part of the problem or part of the solution, especially when there is one readily available," Leno said.

Leno and Gascon said they believe the bill would be the first of its kind in the U.S. Gascon and Schneiderman have given manufacturers a June 2014 deadline to come up with solutions to curb the theft of smartphones.

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 association has been working on a national stolen phone database that launched in November to remove any market for stolen smartphones.

— The Associated Press